Monday 25 March 2019

Number of accidents at Children's Hospital sites 'alarmed' board members

Vision: An artist’s impression of the new hospital
Vision: An artist’s impression of the new hospital

Laura Larkin and Cormac McQuinn

The board driving the development of the National Children's Hospital wrote on two occasions to the contractors of the hospital after "alarm" was raised over the frequency of health and safety incidents.

Minutes of meetings of the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board (NPHDB) reveal that in addition to concerns over the capability of contractor BAM and delays in getting a final construction price, the rate of accidents on site was also raised.

Last October a board meeting heard was a fequency of 0.53 per 100,000 hours on the main hospital site at St James' Hospital and 0.79 per 100,000 hours at the satellites.

"The board found this very alarming," according to records of the meeting and decided to write a letter to BAM about the statistics.

In December, a second letter was issued after four incidents were noted on site the previous month, including one worker breaking his leg.

Some health and safety incidents recorded in 2018 were 'high potential near miss' incidents and others were more minor; a number of monthly updates show there were no incidents at all recorded.

Concerns had been raised about an increase in costs as far back as August 2017 but it was ultimately decided to sign the first set of contracts. The board came to the view the project was still "within the approved scope" and the "natural" point to review the budget would be ahead of the signing off of the second phase.

This week it has emerged there were board concerns over the capacity of BAM to work on the mammoth hospital, while a report late last year also highlighted concern with the design of the hospital, which was not complete before contracts were signed. This led to an underestimation of materials needed to build the hospital.

Asked about the correspondence over health and safety concerns and the concerns over the capacity of the construction firm to work on the project, a spokesperson for the board said the second phase of works was signed off last December "as it offered the best solution commercially and ensured the completion of the children's hospital in the shortest possible time-frame".

They added: "Our focus now is on ensuring that all parties work safely and collaboratively and deliver a hospital of outstanding quality, a project we will all be proud of."

BAM did not respond to queries.

Meanwhile, the Comptroller and Auditor General Seamus McCarthy told TDs civil servants on boards of non-commercial State bodies like the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board (NPHDB) have an obligation to bring serious concerns to the Government.

Questions have been raised about the involvement of senior civil servant Paul Quinn - head of the Office of Government Procurement - who also sits on the hospital's development board.

Labour Party TD Alan Kelly argued Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar were "utterly inaccurate" when they said Mr Quinn was acting in a "personal capacity".

A Department of Public Expenditure spokesperson said Mr Quinn is satisfied the board was "addressing the matter".

This is borne out by the minutes of a Children's Hospital Project and Programme meeting in bringing the matter to the attention of the HSE and the Department of Health. The statement added Mr Donohoe had met Mr Quinn is satisfied he "discharged his duties appropriately".

Irish Independent

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