This is an important issue and I would like a straightforward response from the Minister.
Last week we heard that 100 jobs were being lost at Our Lady's Children's Hospital in Crumlin. This was basically because of mismanagement; the money had run out and people had to be let go. That is no way to run a hospital. Obviously no hospital could provide a full service with such a sudden reduction in staff numbers. The hospital is now starved of resources and it will be difficult to provide the services required.
The Children's University Hospital in Temple Street, like the hospital in Crumlin, does sterling work. However, it is located in antiquated residential buildings which are a couple of hundred years old and it now has a bevy of outhouses, extensions and prefabs. Thus, it too is totally unsuitable for the job it is supposed to do as a children's hospital. For a quarter of a century Temple Street hospital has been promised a new building on a designated site at the Mater hospital. However, every time a solution seemed to be in sight it was dashed within a short space of time. Finally, in 2002, the national development plan seemed to provide the perfect remedy by allocating €400 million towards the redevelopment of Temple Street hospital on a designated site in the Mater campus. At last we thought we had a result.
More than €50 million was spent on the design, preparation and planning process. However, in December 2006, at the eleventh hour, as tender for the construction of the project was about to be opened, the Department of Health and Children countermanded the instruction. The project was not opened to tender and instead, inexplicably, the Minister for Health and Children appointed a number of consultants to consider the feasibility of the project. The outcome of this was the McKinsey report, in which it was decided, strangely, after a quarter of a century of considering the redevelopment, that this was the wrong way to go entirely. It was instead suggested that a new national children's hospital should be built to replace all the children's hospitals in the country. This occurred after the expenditure of €50 million on the project. A task force was then established to determine the optimum location for the hospital. It decided on the Mater site, which was much against the wishes of the consultants in Crumlin, who threatened legal action.
That was the decision of the Department, the Minister and the HSE. However, unfortunately, we have not heard a single word about the project since then. No master planners have been tendered for and no planning application has been considered. All the work that was done on the original children's hospital project has been jettisoned. At present, permission for redevelopment has been applied for by the new adult hospital at the Mater. All of this is happening in a vacuum, without reference to how the proposed national children's hospital will fit into the integrated campus.
It seems there is no will within the Department of Health and Children or the HSE for the project to continue. Worse still, it seems also that there is unlikely to be any money to continue with the project even if the will was there. One could say that in the absence of a national children's hospital what we do have is a national disgrace. The existing hospitals are being starved of the facilities, resources and staff they require. The hospitals are inadequate in terms of carrying out the work they are expected to do. In the last analysis, it is the sick children of the country and their parents who are suffering and will continue to suffer in the absence of the new children's hospital.
I ask the Minister for a straightforward answer on what is to happen with the proposed national children's hospital. When are we going to hear something about it?