Saturday 19 October 2019

Maternity hospital row is badly in need of a cool and composed debate

Holles Street Hospital Photo: Damien Eagers / Irish Independent
Holles Street Hospital Photo: Damien Eagers / Irish Independent
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

Health Minister Simon Harris has called for "cool heads" in the row over giving ownership of the new National Maternity Hospital to the Sisters of Charity.

He is right - although he himself must take some of the blame for indirectly adding to the public outcry last week.

While St Vincent's Healthcare Group is unlikely to withdraw its offer of a site for the hospital at its Dublin 4 campus when it meets on Thursday, the risk remains that the current plan could still collapse.

The reality is that this will set back the building of a new maternity hospital - currently housed in a cramped outdated building in Holles Street - by several years.

The failure to publish the agreement on the workings of the new hospital has helped fuel suspicion and whip up speculation.

The proposal to ask Kieran Mulvey, who mediated the deal between the boards of Holles Street and St Vincent's, to come before the Oireachtas health committee to be quizzed on it by a cross party group of TDs and Senators, seems the most sensible course.

Mr Mulvey is on record as saying the agreement allows for the hospital to have clinical and operational independence.

A rational discussion and dispassionate examination of what this complex agreement means in practical terms is badly needed at this point. It is also important to demonstrate that it is robust and has been subjected to legal test.

A leaked copy of the 25-page agreement appears to confirm the autonomy of the new hospital, stating that it will be protected by its own independent company.

It will be given reserved powers which will allow it to provide services which are without religious, ethic or other distinction. The aim is also to protect the State's investment of €300m and it will not be possible to use the building as a means of getting a loan for a private facility, for instance.

The Sisters of Charity's gift of a free site to the maternity hospital in a part of the city which has some of the most expensive land in the country should also be acknowledged.

There is a long way to go yet. The outcome of the planning application is many months away. Then work on securing building and other contracts begins, and that is a lengthy process.

There is plenty of time yet to iron out any tangles in the agreement and provide clarifications. Time for all sides to be more composed and tolerant.

Irish Independent

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