Tuesday 19 March 2019

€1.4bn cost of National Children's Hospital unlikely to fall, warns new chairman

An artist’s impression of the new National Children’s Hospital which has been hit by cost overruns
An artist’s impression of the new National Children’s Hospital which has been hit by cost overruns

Eilish O’Regan

The new chair of the board responsible for building the National Children’s Hospital today cast doubt on whether it will be possible to make any significant reduction in its massive €1.4bn construction cost.

Fred Barry who was speaking at the Oireachtas health committee indicated the problem may have been an early underestimation of cost rather than an overrun.

But he warned the big challenge will be trying to stop the cost increasing in the future.

He said the scope of the project was underestimated at a very early stage based on tender documents which did not properly pick up its scale.

The hospital, to be built on the site of St James’s Hospital, is now €450m more than when it was signed off in April 2017.

Responding to questions from Fianna Fail  spokesman on health Stephen Donnelly, Mr Barry, who is the former chief of the National Roads Authority, said he did not believe the cost would be “significantly different” if it had gone through competitive tendering.

“What we are looking at here is a late recognition of the scope of the work rather than spending far too much on achieving the result.”

He said the projected savings signed off at the beginning was €70m and this was ambitious. Only €20m has materialised.

He predicted there are no significant savings to be had that will affect the headline cost figure.

The challenge will be to stop the price rising further.

There may be future scope changes and the builders BAM are entitled to make claims if construction inflation goes over 4pc a year.

“Our challenges over the next few years is getting it built. It is a very constrained site and challenge is to get it built safely and not have accidents on the site," he added.

He said he will be guided by decisions taken by the Government on foot of the PWC report on the hospital due in a few weeks.

He told the committee: "I am here in my capacity as Chair-designate of the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board (Development Board).

"The Development Board has the remit to design, build and equip a new national children’s hospital on the campus shared with St. James’s hospital, and the two Paediatric Outpatients and Urgent Care Centres on the Connolly and Tallaght University Hospital campuses.

"Considerable progress has been made on this remit to date.

“The Connolly facility will open later this year, and construction of both the main hospital at St. James’s and of the Tallaght facility has commenced. I would like to acknowledge the contribution and personal commitment of my predecessor, Mr Tom Costello, in chairing the Development Board to this point.

“I worked in the public sector as Chief Executive of the National Roads Authority at a time when we built much of the motorway network. And, I have extensive board experience, in both the private and public sectors.

"The new children’s hospital is not just another big infrastructure project. It is much more than that. It will be transformational for the care we give our children and young people, who represent about a quarter of our population.

“I am honoured to be asked to play a role in its development and finally I look forward to working with the Board of Children’s Health Ireland on this great national project. “

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