Thursday, 18 April 2019

Questions (12, 20)

Joan Burton


12. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform his views on the recent report by a company (details supplied) into the significant overruns at the national children’s hospital; the estimated cost of this report; his plans to avoid the underestimating of project costs in the future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18017/19]

View answer

Jonathan O'Brien


20. Deputy Jonathan O'Brien asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the role his Department will assume in managing the costs and residual risks of the national children's hospital project. [18054/19]

View answer

Oral answers (21 contributions) (Question to Public)

Sadly, the PwC report on the national children's hospital must be one of the most damning indictments of the performance of any Department - in this case, the Department of Health - and indeed of the Government as a whole. The cost overrun on this project has to be one of the biggest cost overruns on a project of this nature in the entire EU. What is the Minister planning to do to avoid similar disasters? We heard from the Government yesterday that the broadband programme will cost €3 billion. How can we believe any of it?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 12 and 20 together.

The management, delivery and oversight of individual projects and public services within the agreed allocations is a responsibility of every Department and Minister.  With this in mind, the monitoring of the national children's hospital project, including the management of the costs and the residual risks, is a matter in the first instance for the Minister for Health and the Department of Health.

The Government has published the report of the independent review of the escalation in national children's hospital costs, which has been conducted by PwC having been commissioned by the HSE. The report acknowledges that the national children's hospital project is unique in scope, scale, and complexity. It makes 11 recommendations, nine of which relate to specific execution and two of which relate to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. As I said during last night's debate on the national children's hospital, I am committed to ensuring the recommendations that have been made in respect of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform are carried out. I have acknowledged on a number of occasions that certain things should have happened differently and better on this project. The Deputy is correct when she points out what went wrong with this process. I remind her that at the end of this process, we will have a national children's hospital facility that is capable of delivering world-class care to young boys and girls. The cost of the new facility that will be opened at James Connolly Hospital, in the Deputy's constituency, is part of the overall cost. This facility will play a role in delivering improved healthcare to young boys and girls before the main site at James Street is in place.

As the Minister has brought up the future, I would like to mention something that is not referred to in the report or in his reply. All of the experts have said that a maternity hospital - this is likely to be the Coombe, which needs to be replaced - needs to be co-located with the new children's hospital. He avoided any mention of that when he spoke about the wonderful hospital of the future. According to the dedicated doctors, medics and nursing staff, it will not be a wonderful hospital of the future unless there is a co-located maternity hospital. As medical technology develops, the danger to the sickest babies can be predicted. The report makes incredibly sad reading. The Minister has said that the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform has accepted two recommendations. I presume he is referring to recommendations Nos. 10 and 11. Recommendation No. 11 is that a "central assurance and challenge function should be established within Government". Is he saying he will establish such a function within his Department to enable it to ride shotgun on future projects? When we heard yesterday about the €3 billion cost of the broadband programme, the Taoiseach did not seem to have a clue what that was made up of. I do not know whether the Minister has a clue what it is made up of.

I have discussed this matter with the Minister on numerous occasions. He said that the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform will oversee two of the recommendations and that the other recommendations will be overseen by the Department of Health. He also said he wants four weeks to consider how he will implement the recommendations in question. All we can do is await the outcome of that process and I am happy to do so.

The Minister, Deputy Harris, and I have given a commitment that in a number of weeks, we will outline how we intend to respond to the recommendations that are contained in the PwC report. Two of the recommendations are particularly relevant to me. I remind Deputy Burton that the Minister for Health dealt with this matter last night in response to a number of questions from Opposition Deputies. The Deputy was a member of the Government that decided to locate this hospital in James Street. It was the right decision to make.

I did not agree with that decision, as the Minister is perfectly aware.

The Deputy was part of that Government. As I recall, her party played a pretty active role in trying to decide whether this was the right decision. Given that she was a member of the Government that made this decision, it is a little bit late in the day now for her to raise questions about the location of the new hospital. Unlike the Deputy, I still believe we are doing this in the right place. I look forward to getting to the point where this hospital is open. It appears from what I have seen of the site that rapid progress is being made in delivering the building. The opening of the new national children's hospital will not make us forget the difficulties and debates that this project has caused, but it might make us appreciate the difference that the hospital will make to the boys and girls who will depend on it.

Perhaps the Minister should take a drive past the expansive greenfield site in Blanchardstown. The secondary facility for children, which is relatively small, is almost complete and on budget. I think it will cost less than €50 million. The problem with the larger project is the site. The Minister has raised the Cabinet discussions that took place at the time. His colleague, who is now the Taoiseach, was extremely unhappy about the site at the time, but along with his Cabinet colleagues he went with the direction of the then Fine Gael Minister for Health, whose decision was based on certain criteria, including medical advice. Those who knew anything about it were aware that a greenfield site was always the most worthwhile option. To be honest, the site that has been chosen needs to be kept under constant review. I would not guarantee that the work, and particularly the co-location of the Coombe maternity hospital, will be successful there. That is a view I have held all along. By the way, I accepted the Cabinet decision, if that is what the Minister is worried about. His colleague, who is now the Taoiseach, had a view as well. He took part in many of the discussions about the greenfield site in Blanchardstown. The secondary building that is being built there is almost complete and is pretty much on target. It is a fraction of the size of the full project. I want the Minister to know that.

I assure the Deputy that I have the pleasure of seeing that new building pretty much every week as I visit her constituency for a variety reasons. I am pleased to see it go ahead. While I am glad to see the project being delivered, I must note that the Deputy was part of the Cabinet that made the decision. It is late in the day-----

Pass the parcel.

And the Minister was not.

-----for her to be saying that there are difficulties with it given that she was at the Cabinet table when the decision was made.

It was the wrong decision.

The truth hurts.

At least Deputy Burton is willing to make constructive interventions to this debate, unlike Deputy Mattie McGrath.


We all subscribe to the principle of Cabinet confidentiality.

Good man, a Cheann-Comhairle.

On that point, I believe the then Minister for Health gave details of his decision to RTÉ.

The Tánaiste is ready to take Leader's Questions.

The weak link to the Taoiseach.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.