Tuesday 23 July 2019

Government reaches for the begging bowl to raise extra €130m

Philanthropy needed as children's hospital costs soar by €450m

Stephen Donnelly: Asked if rising costs were “catastrophic”. Picture: Collins
Stephen Donnelly: Asked if rising costs were “catastrophic”. Picture: Collins

Eilish O'Regan and John Downing

The Government will have to publicly fundraise to secure €130m of the massive overrun which has pushed up the bill for the new national children's hospital to €1.7bn, it emerged yesterday.

Department of Health official Tracey Conroy revealed yesterday €130m of the €450m overrun in the construction bill will have to come from "philanthropic" sources.

It was originally envisaged only €20m would need to be raised from philanthropic funds.

But the spiralling construction cost of the hospital, which has risen from €983m in April 2017 to €1.4bn last November, has forced this target to be revised upwards.

When the construction cost of €1.4bn is added to the €300m non-capital funds needed for areas like IT, the project totals €1.7bn for now.

Around €80m will also need to be collected from charitable sources for the research and education centre.

The revelations were made at the Oireachtas Health Committee yesterday, where it emerged extra beds earmarked for University Hospital Limerick and Cork University Hospital - two of the hospitals worst hit by the trolley crisis - may have to be delayed because so much capital funding will be needed to pay for the children's hospital.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar admitted in the Dáil the extra cath lab in Waterford and new MRI scanner in Mullingar may have to be put back.

An external review by PCW consultants to examine how the cost of the new hospital spiralled is now under way at a cost of €450,000.

Asked by Fianna Fáil TD Stephen Donnelly on whether she regarded it as a catastrophic failure, Ms Conroy said she did not. Neither did Dean Sullivan, deputy HSE head.

Mr Donnelly responded he could think of 1.7 billion reasons why it should merit this description.

Questioned on what level of oversight was in place, they said various committees and groups were part of a reporting system to inform Health Minister Simon Harris and health officials.

Asked by Mr Donnelly who was "ultimately in charge", it emerged the buck stopped with Jim Breslin, secretary general of the Department of Health.

Mr Breslin was not present for yesterday's meeting because of a prior commitment to sit on an interview board.

The Department of Health was told of a €200m overrun in August last year.

In the following months, a maximum price for the second "above-ground" part of the build was agreed and by November it had jumped to €1.4bn.

The National Paediatric Hospital Development Board outlined how extras, such as the volume of materials needed and a nine-month delay in completing the hospital, were driving up costs.

The hospital is scheduled to be completed in 2022 and opened to patients in 2023.

Some €100m needs to be found this year. The health committee had invited Robert Watt, secretary general of the Department of Expenditure, to appear.

However, Mr Watt declined saying it was impractical as his officials already account to two other committees, including the Public Accounts Committee. Health committee chairman Michael Harty said the failure to attend was "disrespectful."

Irish Independent

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