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Don't reopen the location debate - get on with building new children's hospital now

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Minister for health Leo Varadkar with Tom Costello, chairman of the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board, and John Pollock, the board's project director, at the appointment of the design team for the new children's hospital. Photo: Conor McCabe

Minister for health Leo Varadkar with Tom Costello, chairman of the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board, and John Pollock, the board's project director, at the appointment of the design team for the new children's hospital. Photo: Conor McCabe

Minister for health Leo Varadkar with Tom Costello, chairman of the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board, and John Pollock, the board's project director, at the appointment of the design team for the new children's hospital. Photo: Conor McCabe

Recently, there have been a number of articles in the media, questioning the decision on the location of the new children's hospital. Some of these advocated changing the decision yet again, so that the new hospital could be situated on a greenfield site or in Blanchardstown in west Dublin.

It seems that every group and every developer with an unused site has an opinion on the best site, and, of course, everyone is entitled to have an opinion. In the best - or worst - Irish tradition, we could therefore cheerfully carry on agonising over the relative merits of each of the five unsuccessful hospital sites and the 27 other unsolicited sites considered by the expert group.

A two-month public exchange of views in the media sequentially on each of the 32 proposed locations would leave us in 2019 no closer to a decision and no closer to building the badly needed hospital.

Alternatively, we could accept the sterling work of the expert group, chaired by Frank Dolphin, which objectively and fairly examined all the proposed sites. We could take strong encouragement from the support for the chosen site at St James's Hospital by the three existing children's hospitals in Dublin.

We could recognise the very compelling reasons why the correct decision was made. It is true that there is no ideal site for the new hospital, but the main and overriding consideration must be that it should be the site which will give the best health outcomes for children. This indisputably means co-location with a major academic adult teaching hospital with the required range of adult specialities essential for the ongoing care of the sickest children into teenage years and adulthood.

In St James's, children will get the benefit of access to many specialists who treat high volumes of complex cases in 12 of the relevant 14 national specialities.

In contrast, the Mater hospital has six of these relevant specialities while Blanchardstown Hospital, which has now been mentioned as a potential site by some campaigners, has none of these national specialities. In fact, Blanchardstown Hospital is not a Level 4 major academic teaching hospital.

If the hospital was to be sited in Blanchardstown or a greenfield site, it would mean massive investment over many years in a new adult academic teaching hospital and it would take many years to get this up to speed in relation to clinical expertise and experience in all the required specialities.

What has been missing from the ongoing commentary is a recognition that there is more to a hospital than buildings. There is the absolute need for expertise, dedication, skill and experience of the many doctors, nurses and healthcare professionals and support staff who provide the care.

This expertise and experience in the provision of a coordinated national service takes years to develop. St James's hospital has that expertise.

I know this because St James's Hospital has over 40 years of experience in dealing with haemophilia and related bleeding disorders and is the national adult centre for inherited bleeding disorders.

People will haemophilia travel routinely for both out-patient services and for hospitalisation to St James's Hospital from all parts of Ireland. People with haemophilia receive excellent clinical care from the dedicated and expert staff in St James's, including transition care from childhood to adult services, where they work closely with Our Lady's Children's Hospital, Crumlin.

A hospital is defined by the quality of the staff and the quality of the service they provide. St James's is world class and in the area of haemophilia has received glowing reports from external auditors from outside Ireland.

The hospital management is responsive, engaged and genuinely patient centred.

Parking has been mentioned as a concern, but the 1,000 parking spaces for parents and families available at the new site in St James's will be greater than the total number currently available in all three children's hospitals combined.

Of course, I acknowledge that the Irish Haemophilia Society have always favoured the St James's site for the children's hospital and we wrote to then Health Minister Mary Harney as far back as in 2006.

It is worth noting that this was all of eight years ago and we are still waiting for a hospital which will now be delivered, we are promised, in 2019. If there is a move to find yet another site, then this date will be pushed out further.

When the site at the Mater hospital was chosen, we were disappointed but we engaged positively with the team developing the Mater site, determined to assist in the development of this much-needed project.

When the Mater site was refused planning permission, an expert panel examined all options in a fair and transparent manner and the site at St James's was chosen.

It is worth noting that all parties who made representations to the expert group stressed the urgent need for the project to go ahead without further delay. Despite this, some of those parties are now seeking to reopen the process, which could lead to further delay or even abandonment of this vital project.

The hospital project should not be delayed any further by individual views or preferences. The public good demands this and the future well-being of the nation's children demands this. We want to see the new hospital open and treating the nation's sickest children by 2019 and not delayed further by unending debate and indecision. This process has been ongoing since 2006. It is time to build. Let us begin.

Brian O Mahony is Chief Executive of the Irish Haemophlia Society

Irish Independent