Thursday 17 October 2019

No mention of the children's hospital cost in Confidence and Supply talks documents

Construction of the new National Children’s Hospital taking place in Dublin (Niall Carson/PA)
Construction of the new National Children’s Hospital taking place in Dublin (Niall Carson/PA)

Eilish O'Regan, Laura Larkin and Robin Schiller

The escalating cost of the new National Children's Hospital was not revealed in official documents supplied to Fianna Fáil during Confidence and Supply talks - even after the €1.4bn construction price was confirmed.

Teams from Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, backed up by Department of Health officials who were sources of healthcare information, met over a number of weeks in November.

The behind-the-scenes meetings were part of negotiations on a new Confidence and Supply deal to determine if Fianna Fáil would continue to support the Government.

It is only in recent weeks, as controversy raged over the cost, that it was confirmed Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe and Health Minister Simon Harris were told on November 9 by the development board building the new hospital about the €1.4bn construction bill.

But there is no mention of this being passed on to Fianna Fáil at the time.

This is despite meetings taking place between the two sets of teams later in November.

Newly released documents shared by the two teams, who spent six weeks discussing a range of policies over various Government departments, show only one reference to project in the context of Sláintecare.

This brief one-line reference arises in a section relating to the €200m allocation in the last Budget to support Sláintecare strategy. It states there was "additional funding for care redesign and the National Children's Hospital".

It has emerged in recent weeks that Mr Harris was told of a €191m overrun and €200m fee from contractor BAM in August last year. Around €61m of this fee was paid.

Top level Department of Health officials were concerned about the rising bill in the following months. By November 9, it was €450m more costly than expected.

The documents shared between both parties in the Confidence and Supply talks before the deal was concluded in mid-December show the Fianna Fáil team concentrated strongly on pressing issues which would be highlighted by constituents.

They included hospital waiting lists, delays in access to therapists, gaps in mental health services as well as problems with the recruitment and retention of staff.

They also spent time on the trolley crisis, the provision of more hospital beds and the shortage of respite places for people with disability.

Department of Health Secretary General Jim Breslin, who sought information from colleagues on November 1, said he had to attend Confidence and Supply talks the following day and needed briefing notes.

The topics covered were mental health services, disability assessments, adult day services, elderly care supports, bed capacity, waiting list funding, insurance costs, Sláintecare implementation and the effect of Hiqa inspections on nursing homes.

The list has no reference to capital spending or the hospital. A week later civil servants returned and gave another list of areas which led to more demands for information. They included the ability of the National Treatment Purchase Fund to reduce waiting lists, more accurate figures on speech and language therapists, up to date waiting lists for home care and respite places. Meanwhile the Public Accounts Committee is to call board members of the National Children's Hospital and Department of Health officials for further questioning over issues with the hospital.

Irish Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Also in this section