Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Questions (12, 13, 14)

Mary Lou McDonald


35 Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Minister for Health and Children the position regarding plans for a national children’s hospital; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7547/11]

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Robert Dowds


386 Deputy Robert Dowds asked the Minister for Health and Children the position regarding a decision as to where and when a new national children’s hospital will be built. [7479/11]

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Eamonn Maloney


391 Deputy Eamonn Maloney asked the Minister for Health and Children when the proposed review of the location of the new national children’s hospital is to commence and the person who will be the chairperson of this review. [7511/11]

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Oral answers (32 contributions) (Question to Minister for Health)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 35, 386 and 391 together.

As I stated in my earlier reply to the House, the Government has committed, under the programme——

What is the grouping?

Questions Nos. 35, 386 and 391 are being taken together. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Does it include Question No. 38?

I do not have the question numbers before me, but they are questions from Deputies McDonald, Dowds and Maloney.

Those are the three Deputies.

As I stated in my earlier reply to the House, the Government has committed under the programme for Government to the construction of the new children's hospital.

Since my appointment as Minister, I have been engaged in discussions with my officials and with the national paediatric hospital board to brief myself on the work done on this project to date. I wish to be clear about how we can best provide the hospital in the most cost-effective manner while ensuring a high quality service for children and young people.

I intend to carry out a review of the national children's hospital project and will announce the details shortly. I am currently being briefed in some detail on all aspects of the project. Following consideration of the evidence presented to me, I will decide on the scope and terms of reference of the review and the appropriate person or persons to carry it out. I anticipate that the review, once commenced, should take approximately four weeks to complete.

It is essential that all the facts are carefully considered before a final decision is taken on the best approach. In particular I wish to be satisfied that the hospital will provide the best possible clinical outcomes for children and young people. The Deputy may rest assured that I wish to avoid any unnecessary delay to the development of this important project.

Before I call Deputy Ó Caoláin, I advise that as two of the questions are written ones no extra time is available for the grouping.

When does the Minister expect to be in a position to advise us on how he proposes to proceed with the review on the proposed building of the new national children's hospital at the Mater Hospital site? He indicated that he hopes to have those details shortly. When does he expect to have them? Does the Minister have anything further to share with us today on how he expects the review to proceed, particularly given the very short time within which he expects it to conclude its work, a four week period?

Could he indicate whether he is intent on avoiding the engagement of outside, expensive consultancy firms to do the work? Could he indicate the make-up of the review team and assure the House that there will not be additional costs arising from the review to either the Department or the overall public budget?

Does the Minister accept that in the current situation the key concern for many people is the continuation of services at Temple Street, Crumlin and Tallaght hospitals and that there is a reasonable expectation — one that I support — that in the advent of the Mater Hospital site being used for the new national children's hospital that we would continue to have inpatient facilities provided for children at Tallaght Hospital and that the Crumlin Hospital site would continue to service health care needs in that community?

The Deputy mentioned Temple Street, where I have been. I visited just before the election and met the doctors. There is no doubt that the hospital leaves much to be desired in terms of its structure. The work going on there is excellent but the conditions are Victorian. The need for a replacement is acute.

Deputy Ó Caoláin inquired whether external experts would be involved in the review. Absolutely. I want them to be people of the highest repute internationally. It has not been determined yet whether there will be three or four people. I wish to have the input of a paediatric specialist, a cost accountant and managerial economic expertise. It is very important that the hospital is built at an affordable price, that we do not start a hospital we cannot finish, and that we do not hold out false hope by starting on the process and finding in three or four years that we cannot finish it.

I remind Members that the International Monetary Fund is in town and it will be watching the process very carefully. I wish to ensure we get value for money but I reassure Members, that as a doctor, I am acutely aware of the benefits of collocation. Some things go beyond price. It will not be purely a case of whether the hospital could be built more cheaply somewhere else. The benefit of collocation to the patients, the young lives we seek to alter through the provision of the best treatment, must be borne in mind. They are the ones to whom we must give prime consideration.

I call Deputy Crowe.

I have time for only one question.

As you are aware, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, with oral questions taken in ordinary time every Deputy is entitled to offer, unlike with priority questions.

The Deputy should ask a brief question and then I will take a question from Deputy Crowe.

The Minister should note that I did not refer to Temple Street in an ongoing way, I referred to both Crumlin and Tallaght hospitals and the roles they would play post the advent — if it is to be — of the utilisation of the Mater hospital site. Will the Minister indicate his current expectation of service delivery at Tallaght and Crumlin hospitals and, in regard to the former, address my argument that it should continue to provide inpatient care for children?

I do not take issue with the Minister bringing in external expertise. My question focused quite particularly on the engagement of expensive consultants. If the Minister could share the detail with us, I would like to know the make-up of the review team. I welcome the Minister's reference to individuals with expertise. We do not take issue with that but we take issue with the inordinate moneys that have been wasted on external consultancy contracts in the past. That is something I want to avoid.

I welcome the Minister's stated four week timeframe on the review of the Mater hospital site. When will the review start? Therefore, we will know when the four weeks will end.

The Minister should be brief as we are out of time.

I reassure the Deputy that I am equally concerned about the cost of external consultants. That is why I do not envisage the review going to a firm but to named individuals who would provide us with an independent opinion, having had all the facts put in front of them. That is why I am delaying the process until we have all the facts put in front of us through the Department and the Health Service Executive.

Discrepancies were noted between the moneys identified by the previous chairman and the moneys identified by the Health Service Executive. If we are out by €10 million we should consider whether we want to be out by €100 million later. I am very concerned about that. We will shorten the review process and make the projected four week timeframe achievable if we have all the information to hand for the people concerned. The other criterion on which I will insist is that the consultants come to the country and visit the sites. It is not my intention to open the argument again. That is not what this is about. It is about assessing the hospital in the specified location at the projected cost as being the way forward to deliver the best for our children.

Ceist 36 is taken with other questions.

Gabh mo leithscéal, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, another Deputy had——

I am sorry, but the time has expired. It is up to Members to ask shorter questions if they wish more progress to be made. We must now proceed with other questions.

I understand that any Deputy can offer on questions taken in ordinary time. On a point of order, with respect, is it not the case that if another Deputy wishes to ask a question——

We are moving on to Question No. 36.

We are not on priority questions any more. We are entitled to a one minute question.

We have gone way over time. I wish to allow other Members to contribute.

I do not know to which rules you refer, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle.

You indicated, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, that you would take a question from me.

I now call the next question, No. 36.

Are we not taking Question No. 54 with that?

Yes. The Minister will read out the reply now. Question No. 36 is taken with Questions Nos. 47, 54, 66, 71, 76 and 376.

It is like being in a Bingo hall.

According to my notes, Deputy Naughten is head of the class.