Sunday 17 December 2017

'Shooting the messenger' - Maternity hospital critic told to resign from board by text message

Dr Peter Boylan, pictured, did not reply to the text, signed by Dr Rhona Mahony and Nicholas Kearns. Picture: Tom Burke
Dr Peter Boylan, pictured, did not reply to the text, signed by Dr Rhona Mahony and Nicholas Kearns. Picture: Tom Burke

Eilish O'Regan, Conor Kane and Shane Phelan

The outspoken former master of the National Maternity Hospital in Holles St, Dr Peter Boylan, has been asked by text message to resign from the board by his deputy chairman Nicholas Kearns.

Dr Boylan, who is a strong critic of the decision to allow the Sisters of Charity ownership of the new national maternity hospital, confirmed to the Irish Independent last night he was asked to resign "by text" last Sunday.

He said the text was signed by Mr Kearns and the current master of the hospital, Dr Rhona Mahony.

"I got a text on Sunday afternoon from Mr Kearns and the Master of the hospital," he said, adding that he has not responded to it.

It comes in the wake of the outcry over the decision to give ownership of the €300m hospital to the Sisters of Charity, who own the St Vincent's Hospital campus in Dublin where it will be located.

Dr Boylan said last night he intends to attend a meeting of the Holles Street board tomorrow afternoon.

"It is shooting the messenger to ask me to resign. Telling me 'you are out' is not going to advance the hospital," he said.

He also said the agreement between Holles St and St Vincent's has not yet been put to the governors, who are the shareholders of the healthcare facility.

Dr Peter Boylan did not reply to the text, signed by Dr Rhona Mahony, pictured, and Nicholas Kearns. Picture: Arthur Carron
Dr Peter Boylan did not reply to the text, signed by Dr Rhona Mahony, pictured, and Nicholas Kearns. Picture: Arthur Carron

Dr Boylan, who is a brother-in-law of Dr Mahony, retired as an obstetrician last year. He said that it is important to have a board with "diverse opinions".

A spokesman for the hospital said last night Dr Boylan was a member of the board at all times during the six-month period of mediation which resulted in agreement last November to co-locate the National Maternity Hospital with St Vincent's University Hospital.

"The board was kept fully briefed on all developments by the negotiating team during that period.

"The decisive final meeting of the board overwhelmingly supported the agreement with 25 in favour, two abstentions (including Dr Boylan) and one vote against.

"Thereafter the agreement was approved by Government and planning permission was lodged. Last week, some five months after the agreement was approved, Dr Boylan, without warning, consultation with or notification to the board, its chair or the Master of the hospital, went public in attacking the agreement."

During an interview, with RTÉ's 'Morning Ireland' last week, Dr Boylan, suggested that the Sisters of Charity would bring a strong religious influence to the practices at the new National Maternity Hospital.

"The state is investing €300m of your money and my money in a new maternity hospital and it is inappropriate that that hospital should have a strong religious influence, particularly from the Catholic Church, with all its bad history in relation to women's healthcare," he said.

Yesterday Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald called for "the utmost clarity" on the future governance at the new hospital.

The Justice Minister said the days of "interference by religious authorities" in maternity services are in the past.

She said she believes there will be "significant progress" in the coming days on the issues that have "arisen" and that Health Minister Simon Harris is working on achieving clarity.

"What I would say is that the time for interference in any modern maternity hospital for the future, any interference by religious authorities, that time is in the past and for the future, clearly, women and the country need clarity and that's what the minister (for health) is working to ensure we have," she said.

"People want a modern maternity hospital that's working to best clinical practice and the religious orders and the Church have nothing to do with it or with the decisions that are made for women."

More than €5m stands to be lost if the controversial deal to move the National Maternity Hospital to the St Vincent's campus collapses.

The public funding has already been spent in preparing to move the maternity hospital from Holles Street to the Dublin 4 site.

Around €100,000 has been paid to An Bord Pleanála as part of the planning application.

The board of St Vincent's Healthcare Group will meet later this week to review its involvement in the project in light of the public outcry.

Dr Rhona Mahony has said an agreement between the two boards allows for full independence for the maternity hospital and it will provide all services that are legal in the State.

Compulsory purchase route is costly and open to legal challenge

Adverse public opinion about the decision to allow the Sisters of Charity to own the proposed new National Maternity Hospital is threatening to derail the deal put in place for the publicly-funded construction of the €300m facility. But are people getting worked up about nothing when there is a deal in place guaranteeing the independence of the hospital?

An agreement document states the hospital's clinical services will be free of any religious considerations, while other safeguards include a 'golden share' being held by the State to ensure the hospital's independence.

A lien, or legal charge on the hospital, would also mean it cannot be sold. But not everyone is convinced these measures will guarantee that clinical decisions are not in some way subject to religious interference.

Couldn't this all be solved if the State just bought the land?

It could, but it wouldn't be simple. There is no guarantee that the St Vincent's Hospital Group would agree to sell.

The proposed location of the new hospital is right in the centre of the St Vincent's campus, adjacent to the main ward block of the existing public hospital.

A sale would be a much likelier proposition if the new hospital was to be located on the periphery of the campus.

Could the State seize the land?

In theory it could, but this would be a very expensive option, especially when you consider the State is being offered the use of the land for free. The land would have to be bought by way of a compulsory purchase order, an instrument used to allow public infrastructure projects to go ahead for the common good. Under CPO rules the hospital group would have to be paid the value of the land, which would be considerable given its Dublin 4 location.

A premium would also need to be paid for any potential diminution of value of the remaining lands in the campus, plus other costs arising from disturbance or loss of profits.

Could a CPO be subject to legal challenge?

Most definitely. Indeed if there was a CPO and it was to be challenged, the project could be set back several years with no guarantee it would go ahead eventually at the chosen site.

One just has to look at the case of Kildare farmer Thomas Reid who resisted efforts by IDA Ireland to compulsorily purchase his land in 2011. The matter went all the way to the Supreme Court, where Mr Reid won his case in 2015.

What about a long-term lease?

This would lead to a situation where the State owns the hospital buildings but not the ground on which they stand.

In the context of the deal that already exists, this option wouldn't make much sense, financially or otherwise, unless it involved a peppercorn rent and the lease being for an awfully long time, effectively guaranteeing the buildings for use as a maternity hospital in perpetuity.

Irish Independent

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