Friday 15 December 2017

Harris must focus on public concerns

Health minister Simon Harris Photo: Tom Burke
Health minister Simon Harris Photo: Tom Burke


The handling of the controversy surrounding the future of the National Maternity Hospital by the Minister for Health, Simon Harris, has left a lot of be desired, coming as it does on the back of significant disquiet over the spiralling cost related to the proposed new National Children's Hospital which is now set to run massively over-budget without proper explanation as to how such an over-run could occur.

The over-run will likely reach €600m, enough to fund a second hospital as originally envisaged. There remains huge public concern over what appears to be a reversal of State policy to allow a religious order ownership of, and influence over the control of, the maternity hospital. Mr Harris has so far failed to properly assuage that public concern, or indeed explain how and why such a decision came to be taken in the first place. Those concerns were initially highlighted and have been convincingly articulated by Dr Peter Boylan, former Master of the National Maternity Hospital, Holles Street, who has now resigned from the project board. His concerns, and the concerns of other respected individuals familiar with the project, need to be taken on board by the health minister. There is now a case for an independent review of the ownership structure, and board control, before the project proceeds further. Mr Harris also needs to show more awareness that the concerns of the public are not formed lightly. In recent years, the State has made determined advances away from the influence of religious orders over the practice of medicine. The health minister also needs to be aware that he serves the public interest, and that this responsibility extends to the changed attitudes within society brought about through bitter experience. The operation of a National Maternity Hospital is not a box to be ticked by any politician on his way through the Department of Health but is an important foundation stone to be laid for generations of Irish women and families to come.

The positive mood

On this Bank Holiday weekend, on the cusp of the warmth of another summer, it is appropriate to reflect on the mood of the nation not just in terms of consumer sentiment - the business of pounds, shillings and pence, important though that be - but of personal mood, which our opinion poll today finds to be remarkably positive.

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