Q&A: Troubled journey of new hospital

St Vincent’s Hospital in Dublin

Eilish O'Regan

The Order of the Sisters of Charity announced it will no longer be involved in ownership or management of the St Vincent's hospital campus in Dublin. What is the significance of this?

The religious order founded St Vincent's hospital in 1835. It is a major decision for it. The modern-day complex incorporates the public and private hospital.

The order is the main shareholder in St Vincent's Healthcare Group, which owns both. Inevitably, the principles of the Catholic ethos were part of its ethical code. This will now end.

The ethos issue was not a problem for people for many years. Why the current furore?

The new maternity hospital is to be built on the campus. Many were concerned the presence of the order on St Vincent's Healthcare Group, which would own the hospital, would lead to some procedures not being allowed.

But both boards of St Vincent's and the National Maternity Hospital in Holles Street said this could not happen. The new hospital would be independent, they insisted.

Yes, an agreement was drawn up which would see the maternity hospital run by an independent company. But many were unconvinced.

The National Maternity Hospital at Holles Street

What about the State? It is investing €300m in building the hospital.

The Department of Health was satisfied with the agreement at first but the public outcry meant it went back to St Vincent's again to put forward new proposals.

Why could the site of the hospital not just be sold to the State?

That was not possible because it is part of a wider campus which is caught up in loans. Also, St Vincent's Healthcare Group wants the new hospital to be part of its wider complex.

So, the order will cut its ties with St Vincent's Healthcare Group. Does that mean the State now owns the hospital?

No. The St Vincent's Healthcare Group will continue to own the hospital and land on which it is built.

What difference will this make to the running of the new maternity hospital?

Once the order has ended its legal links to St Vincent's, the code drawn from its religious ethos will also be amended.

What will the code say?

It will reflect the compliance with best practice guidelines on medical ethics and laws of the Republic of Ireland.

This is being interpreted as freeing all three hospitals from any obligation to follow the Catholic ethos and allow all procedures that are legal in the State to be carried out.

There is still the issue of who will be on the board of the new hospital.

The make-up will continue to be four nominees from the National Maternity Hospital Holles Street, four from St Vincent's and an international expert who will have the casting vote.

What will happen to the shareholding the order held?

That will be taken over by a new company which is to be set up and aims to be a registered charity. It will own the shares in trust, will be called 'St Vincent's' and will be overseen by a board made up of people with various expertise. But the separate board of St Vincent's Healthcare Group will effectively run the show at the campus. Initially, for a year the company's board will be an interim one made up of members of the St Vincent's Healthcare Group board. Both boards will be made up of lay members.

What stage is the new maternity hospital at?

A planning application has been lodged and a decision is due in September. If given the green light, the next stage will be to issue tenders for builders and plan its construction.

So what is the response from the Holles Street board? Is it satisfied with the new proposal?

Yes, the majority of the board had no problem with the agreement and were satisfied the new hospital would be independent. It acknowledged the contribution of the order.

Does the order walk away without any financial recompense?

It still owns the site of the old St Vincent's private hospital.

This will be sold and generate several million euro for it.

Is that the end of the row now?

It should satisfy most concerns. But until the final details about the new company are released, who is on the board and what it stands for in terms of philosophy and ethical code, sceptics will continue to question.