Thursday 22 March 2018

'I know what it's like to be stuck in traffic with a sick child when every second counts' - Mum Adele O'Neill on the new children's hospital

Adele O'Neill and her sons, Ethan, 7, right, and Zach, 4.
Photo: Damien Eagers
Adele O'Neill and her sons, Ethan, 7, right, and Zach, 4. Photo: Damien Eagers
Catherine Devine

Catherine Devine

Parents of very sick children say they have been “left in despair” as the green light is given for the new national children’s hospital to be at St. James’ Hospital in the city centre.

The new children’s hospital will merge the three existing hospitals in Crumlin, Temple St and Tallaght which parents are calling “a national disaster”.

Adele O’Neill knows first hand the importance of getting a child to hospital in an emergency as she had to rush her three-year-old son Zach to Crumlin Hospital after he suffered a cardiac/respiratory arrest at their home in Wicklow.

“I know what it's like to be stuck in traffic when every second counts, when the amazing paramedics have nothing left to do but repeat that your child really needs to be in a hospital,” said mum Adele.

Adele is one of the parents of a sick child who will face a journey further into the city centre once the new national children's hospital is built at St. James’ in Dublin 8.

“This is a recipe for disaster,” she told

Adele, her husband Alan and their sons Ethan and Zack lived in the Ronald McDonald House which provides long-term accommodation and support for families all over the country while their seriously ill children are being cared for at Crumlin Hospital.

“A serious concern for me as a parent with a sick child is that there is no green space available for families at city centre hospitals. We lived in Crumlin for four months and the lack of green space and fresh air had a detrimental effect on our mental health and well-being.

Proud parents Adele and Alan and their son, Zack
Proud parents Adele and Alan and their son, Zack

“I have an older son too and we resorted to standing at the junction of the Crumlin Road to watch the buses go by just to break the long days. A city centre location is not the right place for children who are long-term patients.”

Adele’s son Zach (5) is now an outpatient at Crumlin Hospital but will more than likely be transferred to St. James’.

She said one of the biggest problems she faces is trying to get through the city centre and find a parking space so that Zach can make his appointments.

“Children with the most complex medical needs from all over Ireland are being asked to park at the Red Cow and get the Luas. This shows a compete lack of understanding of life for a seriously ill child.    

“Every visit is fraught with anxiety which is only heightened by the stress of getting there through the traffic and finding a car park space, if you're lucky. We have had procedures and tests adversely effected because our son was already frustrated and exhausted after sitting in traffic and then waiting for up to 40mins in a queue to just get into the car park, before even getting into the waiting room.

“Imagine travelling from Arklow, or Killarney or Letterkenny and then unloading from the car in the rain a child with a wheelchair, feeding pump, possibly an oxygen tank and all the other paraphernalia needed to survive what can be lengthy waits to see a consultant, before 'hopping' on the LUAS. Public transport is not a practical option for seriously ill children, and a dangerous one.”      

Adele said that families like her are “left in despair” and aren’t taken into consideration. She said the site at Connolly Hospital in Blanchardstown would be much better for families as it has “plenty of space, easier access and a green site”.

“The problems at St. James' will only get worse. And the people who will suffer most will be the sick children they are supposed to be prioritising.”

Wicklow Cllr Jennifer Whitmore said that the location of the new children’s hospital “comprises young lives”.

“In ten years’ time we’re going to look back and wonder why we put this new centre of excellence in the middle of our city centre making life difficult for parents and children.

“It’s a national hospital catering for children across the country and we put it in the middle of the busiest place in the country.

“We can spend millions on quality care and consultants but if it’s bang in the city centre congestion it will be inaccessible for parents.

“There hasn’t been enough discussion on it. Parents and children haven’t been listened to seriously about how this is going to impact them. If children get stuck in traffic during an emergency it can have grave results.”

A spokesperson for the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board & the Children's Hospital Group explained that the campus "at St James's Hospital was chosen as the best location for the new children's hospital as it best supports improved clinical outcomes for our sickest children and young people".

They also clarified that the new children's hospital will be tri-located on a campus shared with St. James’s Hospital and, in time, with the relocated Coombe Women and Infants University Hospital.

"There will be 1000 car parking spaces in the new children's hospital and 675 of those spaces will be dedicated to families. (This is three time the parking spaces that is available currently at the three children's hospitals combined). 23 Emergency drop offs spaces will also be provided," they told

"There will be a number of outdoor garden and play areas at the hospital, including the Rainbow Garden which is the length of a Croke Park and accessed directly from the wards."

The new children's hospital in figures

By Eilish O'Regan

€650m - Cost of new campus, including €450 exchequer funding and €200M from the sale of the national lottery

118,113 - The floor area in square metres

53 - Number of beds in on-site accommodation units for families

675 - Car spaces for families of children

380 - Single in-patient rooms. 93 day care beds, 18 operating theatres and 60 intensive care beds

16-18 - Age at which children with life-long medical conditions can transfer to St James's adult hospital

2020 - Expected date of opening, with construction to begin later this year

Why St James's Hospital eventually won out

The St James's Hospital site as a location for the new national children's hospital offers the best "connectivity," according to An Bord Pleanala.

There is no other public healthcare site as well served by public transport as St James's, said planning inspector Tom Rabbette.

The planning permission to build the seven-storey children's hospital was granted but with 14 conditions attached.

There will be 675 car parking spaces for families and visitors.

Plans to limit the use of private cars to those using the new National Children's Hospital are ambitious but achievable, he insisted. Several opponents of the St James's site had concerns about the problems faced by parents bringing children to and from the hospital by car.

Mr Rabbette said that while the new development could potentially affect local road traffic, the measures to alleviate this could keep it at "acceptable levels."

Tallaght and Connolly to act as 'satellite centres'

Satellite centres in Tallaght Hospital and Connolly Hospital in Blanchardstown will be linked to the main hospital.

They will provide accident and emergency care with no overnight stay. They can also house outpatient clinics.

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