Tuesday 21 November 2017

St Vincent's Group told cash at risk in maternity hospital row

Leo Varadkar. Photo: Mark Condren
Leo Varadkar. Photo: Mark Condren

Eilish O'Regan and Ryan Nugent

Health Minister Leo Varadkar has threatened to pull funding from St Vincent's University Hospital (SVUH) if the bitter row over the relocation of the National Maternity Hospital to Elm Park rages on.

In a letter issued to the St Vincent's Healthcare Group last night, Mr Varadkar said: "If the project at Elm Park is not to proceed, the funding set aside in the Government's Capital Plan 2016-2021, including the replacement and enhancement works for SVUH, will be redirected elsewhere".

"Ultimately, the collapse or failure of this project would pose significant patient safety risks," he added.

Meanwhile, almost €5m of taxpayers' money is in danger of being written off if the relocation row is not resolved.

Figures obtained by the Irish Independent reveal that €4.73m has already been spent in preparation for the move - despite the process having not yet reached the stage where a planning application is submitted.

Mr Varadkar warned both hospitals that if the highly charged dispute over who will govern the new maternity hospital is not resolved, an alternative site will have to be found.

"If no such agreement can be reached within the next few weeks, I regret we will be left with no option but to examine alternatives," he said.

This would mean that the public money spent to date would have been squandered - in the same way that €35m had to be written off after the plan to build a new national children's hospital at the site of the Mater Hospital fell through.

The National Maternity Hospital is currently struggling to maintain a service in Holles Street - while St Vincent's Hospital in Dublin 4 is seeing an escalation in waiting lists and dangerous levels of emergency overcrowding.

St Vincent's is adamant that it must take over the governance of the facility when it moves to its site, despite absolute resistance to the move by the board of the National Maternity Hospital.

In the letter to both hospitals, Mr Varadkar sided with the stance taken by the National Maternity Hospital and said co-location where the new facility would maintain its independence was the preference of the outgoing government.

The national maternity strategy also proposes retaining the current model where there is a master of the National Maternity Hospital.

Mr Varadkar said that the "ongoing delay in the lodgement of the planning application is of significant concern and at this juncture we must make a decision whether to proceed".

He also said he was making a final bid to ask both hospitals to reach agreement and allow it to proceed.

In response, a spokesman for the National Maternity Hospital said it remained absolutely committed to a "co-located" hospital on the grounds of St Vincent's and was keen to urgently resume conversation on overcoming the differences.

However, St Vincent's chairman James Menton said it was "difficult to reconcile this latest National Maternity Hospital statement of commitment given its stand on the crucial question of governance and clinical management for the new hospital".

Meanwhile, the Department of Health has put a blanket ban on releasing any external correspondence it received from the hospitals or the HSE on the planned re-location.

It also said it is not in the public interest to reveal any of its own internal documents, including those relating to costs.

In response to a freedom of information request by the Irish Independent, the department's Emma Bradley said it was not "in the public interest" to provide this information, despite the issue having implications for costs and patient safety.

The department did, however, release information revealing how senior officials tracked Mr Varadkar's posts on Twitter in relation to the hospital.

Irish Independent

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