Monday 19 February 2018

New children’s hospital site is too small, says charity chief

NOT CONVINCED: Jonathan Irwin, CEO of the Jack & Jill Foundation, says St James’s is an unsuitable site for the new children’s hospital. Picture: Conor McCabe
NOT CONVINCED: Jonathan Irwin, CEO of the Jack & Jill Foundation, says St James’s is an unsuitable site for the new children’s hospital. Picture: Conor McCabe
Jonathan Irwin with plans for the Children's Hospital. Picture: GERRY MOONEY


JONATHAN Irwin shook his head in disbelief on Friday as he watched surveyors already at work with theodolites in the packed staff car park at St James’s Hospital.

The work is part of the design stage for the National Children’s Hospital to be built on a site at the heart of the already chaotic St James’s hospital campus.

The founder of the Jack & Jill Foundation is still astonished that St James’s was chosen, but he believes it is not too late for a brave government to change its mind, admit it was wrong and start again.

Last week, it emerged that the main sewer serving the Drimnagh area runs under the St James’s site and that hospital construction faces an €18m delay as a result.

The development board charged with bringing the new hospital project to fruition denies the sewer will have an impact on the construction work, saying that re-aligning the sewer, which consists of 60cm pipes, is not envisaged as part of the project.

It said: “Site appraisals prepared for the board confirm the 12-acre site provided at St James’s Hospital will comfortably accommodate the proposed development, including future expansion, and in accordance with Dublin City Council’s Development Control Plan.”

Under their plan, the transition of services to the new children’s hospital, including research and education facilities, will commence before the end of 2018.

For Jonathan Irwin, whose charity provides care and support for children with severe neurological development issues, as well as offering some respite to their parents, St James’s is simply not suitable.

“In the Dolphin Report they reviewed half-a-dozen possible sites for the new hospital and this place only warranted ‘a tick’ because it was near the Luas,” he said, as he walked through the St James’s campus.

Mr Irwin walked the site with some difficulty. He underwent “very successful” cancer treatment some months ago, but there was some damage to the sciatic nerve, which means he has to use crutches as he undergoes extensive physiotherapy.

He says the proximity of the Luas line is largely irrelevant.

“Having the tram is all very fine for visitors, but none of the Jack & Jill children will be arriving on the tram with their 21 pieces of equipment and two anxious parents,” he told the Sunday Independent.

He believes the St James’s site will be a nightmare during the construction phase and that even if it is built, the site is too “squeezed” to cater for future expansion.

“There is the issue of possibly removing the sewer. They are going to go down three storeys to build an underground car park. Inevitably, when you go down that deep, you are going to hit rock.

“That means jackhammers and rockbreakers in the construction phase and all that debris will have to be removed by truck.

“That will mean 30 trucks on duty here from 8am every day on four shifts. And they are going to try and keep the hospital running while this is going ahead. The effect of a major clearance of this site will profoundly impact on the hospital in a very big way,” he says.

As well as the underground car park, an existing 19th-Century chapel will have to be demolished, pre-fab buildings dismantled, trees removed and the current rheumatology, rehabilitation and physiotherapy departments transferred.

“And of course, all the electrical cabling will have to be removed.

“I’m told they don’t have an up-to-date map of where all the electrical cabling was laid during the piecemeal building of the St James’s complex over the years,” he adds.

“We need a hospital that will expand over the next 50 to 100 years. Driving into St James’s is already a nightmare. They have had to close off one of the entrances [near the South Circular Road], because it was being used as a rat run.

“That means there is one way in and one way out.” He points out that some staff say that during rush hour, it takes 45 minutes to leave St James’s.

Irwin believes that a solution is staring the Government in the face — move the new children’s hospital to an unused 36-hectare site which is owned by the State at Blanchardstown beside James Connolly Memorial Hospital.

He says the alternative site would be up to €100m cheaper to build because there would be no need to shift existing facilities, and there is excellent access for patients, staff and families from the M50.

He says that 90 per cent of patients travel to a children’s hospital by car.

“The Blanchardstown site offers unlimited parking and enough space to build a maternity hospital adjacent to the National Children’s Hospital and research facilities,” he says.

“The Government needs to take a step back and look again before they make a huge mistake.”

Sunday Independent

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