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Mater 'still best option' for children's hospital

AN international expert who advised the Minister for Health on where to build the planned national children's hospital believes the Mater site is still the best location.

Dr Jim Shmerling, who runs the Children's Hospital in Colorado, said he was convinced that the controversial Mater hospital remains the "optimal" site for the €650m children's facility, despite the fact that An Bord Pleanala rejected it on grounds of height and density.

Dr Shmerling was on the independent expert panel who advised Dr James Reilly last May to go ahead on the Mater site.

The minister hoped the recommendation of three international experts would end divisions over the hospital's inner-city location. But he had to commission a second review panel to consider other possible locations, after An Bord Pleanala's surprise ruling threw his plans into disarray.

Speaking to the Sunday Independent this weekend, Dr Shmerling said he believed the paediatric hospital could still go ahead on the Mater site in a scaled-down form. He and two other experts chose the Mater last year because it offered "the greatest opportunity to provide world-class clinical services and research".

"My strong conviction is that the Mater site is the optimal location. While we were not experts on building height and construction conditions, there were other consultants who were. To the best of my knowledge, they also concurred with our recommendation," he said.

His comments come in the wake of the Mater's fresh bid to site the hospital on its Eccles Street campus. It is one of more than 20 proposed locations for the hospital that have been submitted to Dr Reilly's second review team, chaired by Frank Dolphin.

Dr Shmerling's team, in contrast, considered just three other alternatives close to the M50, before recommending the Mater site.

"I strongly believe that the best children's hospitals around the world are those who have aligned with academic institutions and have co-located near them. Even here in the US there are current examples of where children's hospitals are relocating their entire campus to adjoin or co-locate on to the campus of an adult academic hospital," he said.

"I do believe the Mater hospital could still meet its objectives, even if scaled back a bit.

"The Children's Hospital Colorado operates 15 satellite locations in addition to the main campus, two of which contain in-patient beds. We are in the process of building another new campus, 17km from our main facility which will have capacity for another 48 beds, over 35 ambulatory paediatric subspeciality clinics and an urgent care centre."

He continued: "In summary, I do think it is possible to reduce the scope of services at the Mater site without endangering the overall goal of creating a national children's hospital. The 'hub and spoke' concept allows greater access for patients and families and creates opportunities to expand service capacity."

However, he said the "hub and spoke" concept would only work if there was centralised governance of all the paediatric services in each location and a comprehensive information and communications technology system to "ensure safe integration of services".

The Mater hospital has joined forces with the Rotunda maternity hospital and Temple Street children's hospital for a lower building, and a satellite service -- an ambulatory and urgent care centre (AUCC) -- in Tallaght.

Backers of alternative sites claim they can build the children's hospital for significantly less than €650m budget. Several alternative submissions also include co-location with adult teaching hospitals.

The most recent submission is a joint proposal from the Coombe maternity hospital, Dublin City Council and the developers who own the former Player Wills cigarette factory on the South Circular Road. They proposed a seven-storey tri-located facility on 20 acres, that would be linked to the Coombe and St James's Hospital.

Mr Dolphin's review group will report to the Mr Reilly on May 24.

Sunday Independent