Tuesday 20 March 2018

Children's hospital: 60pc back different site


Project has cost State €30m so far

PLANS to build a national children's hospital on the site of the Mater Hospital in Dublin have failed to win public support, an opinion poll has revealed.

A majority of people -- 60 per cent -- believe the hospital should be built on an alternative site, the Sunday Independent/Millward Brown Lansdowne opinion poll has found.

Less than a third believe that the planned children's hospital should go ahead on the Mater site. Four per cent believe the project should be scrapped altogether and six per cent were undecided.

The findings come at a critical juncture for the planned €650m hospital which was refused planning permission in a shock decision by An Bord Pleanala 10 days ago. The refusal was based on the height of the building and "overdevelopment" of the site.

The Government will decide on Tuesday whether a recently announced expert group should be tasked with examining alternative locations for the hospital or whether to proceed on the Mater site in a scaled-down form.

The Minister for Health James Reilly will announce the members of the committee once the Cabinet decides what its terms of reference should be. Frank Dolphin, a former chairman of the HSE, has already been appointed.

Today's poll -- the first snapshot of public opinion since An Bord Pleanala's decision -- shows that a clear majority don't want the hospital to be built on the north inner-city Mater site.

The poll also reflects a level of public disillusion with the Mater site which has been embroiled in controversy ever since it was first recommended as the ideal location six years ago.

The project at one stage cost an estimated €650,000 a month in consultants' and engineering fees and in total it has cost €30m to date -- though it has failed to advance beyond the proposal stage.

Dr Reilly has already signalled his backing for a scaled-down version of the hospital on the Mater site. His suggestion that some educational and laboratory facilities could be moved elsewhere was criticised by paediatricians.

Dr Martin White, who sits on the neonatal advisory group, said the faculty of paediatricians had "grave reservations" about scaling down the hospital, and that moving facilities elsewhere would lower standards.

poll details pages 19-22

Harry Crosbie, a developer and chairman of the children's hospital development board, also staunchly backed the Mater site, claiming the project could be reconfigured in "three months flat".

Parents' groups, doctors and even the development board charged with building the hospital on the Mater have long been divided over its location, with issues such as access, traffic and congestion emerging as recurrent issues.

The Mater site was chosen in 2006 by a joint task group over Beaumont, St James, St Vincent's, Connolly and Tallaght. Connolly had the best site for building but had too few consultants and not enough specialities. St Vincent's didn't offer enough specialist services either, nor did Tallaght, although its site and location were in its favour. Beaumont was regarded as not accessible enough. The choice came down to a tie between St James and the Mater.

While St James had more scope for expansion, the Mater was chosen because of its proximity to both St James and Beaumont. It was thought that building a hospital there would be quicker than at St James because development work was already under way on site. But six years on, the national paediatric hospital has stalled again before a single sod has been turned.

As today's poll shows, public opinion has come down in favour of alternative locations. Tallaght is back on the agenda. A new site at Heuston, close to St James, has also emerged. The Coombe last week submitted its own proposals to host the hospital, putting it in competition with Crumlin.

Various greenfield sites have also emerged, including at Newlands Cross and in Blanchardstown, although a stand-alone children's hospital with no immediate access to an adult facility is regarded as a major drawback.

Sunday Independent

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