THE National Maternity Hospital hopes to give birth to a new era in five years' time when it moves to the campus of St Vincent's Hospital in Dublin 4.
The hospital is currently located in Holles Street in the inner city, where it is struggling to cope with nearly 10,000 births annually in cramped facilities, some of which date back to the mid-1700s.
However, the long-awaited go ahead has now been given to construct a new building in the grounds of St Vincent's Hospital nearly a mile away in Elm Park. Health Minister James Reilly said €150m has been earmarked for the project, with the aim of starting construction in 2016 and opening the doors to a new generation in 2018.
It is unclear if this funding will be enough to meet the full cost of the building and the HSE is refusing to divulge its costings for each stage of the project because they are commercially sensitive.
It will be purpose-built and double the size of the current hospital, offering women mostly single en suite rooms for ante- and post-natal care.
The accommodation will include a high-dependency unit, a neonatal intensive care unit and birthing rooms for multiple births.
Hospital master Dr Rhona Mahony said yesterday: "We currently have to shoehorn modern facilities into an old building. We have a big problem with overcrowding. When I do the rounds I am quite upset by the overcrowding but it has been part of life here now for several years."
She said the 2018 completion date is a "realistic target" although planning permission has yet to be obtained in one of the most expensive residential areas in the city.
St Vincent's Hospital chief executive Nicholas Jermyn said there had been residents' objections to previous developments but they now work very closely with locals and also Dublin City Council.
"I don't believe there will be concerns. We have a group of young families coming into the area and it can only enhance property prices," he insisted.
Dr Reilly said the plan was in line with recommendations in a major report in 2008 which said maternity services should be co-located with an adult acute hospital. This is to allow for sharing of expertise and a better experience for patients.
"The acute hospital can provide access to a full range of medical and surgical specialties and clinical support services in sufficient volume and complexity to provide added value. This is particularly important for high-risk mothers and babies," he said.
Dr Mahony said investment would continue to upgrade facilities in the meantime in the Holles Street building and patient care would not be compromised.
Asked about the future of the other two maternity hospitals in Dublin, the Rotunda and the Coombe, which are also in old buildings, Dr Reilly said the relocation of both would be looked at in the context of new hospital groups they are part of.