As I said yesterday, the past number of weeks in the Oireachtas have been dominated by debate and discussion regarding the development of the national children’s hospital and cost escalation. I have been clear that my Department, the Government and I take seriously the significant increase in public funds over those originally committed by Government based upon the business case submitted by the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board, NPHDB. As I have set out, once I was notified of potential cost increases at the very end of August 2018, a period of intensive work took place, although this does not suit the narrative of those who suggest that there was inaction. There was a high level of activity to establish the extent of the increase, explore ways to reduce it, quickly commission independent reviews and consider all contingencies. This detailed work was essential to arriving at the final position in November and allowed the Government to make a thorough, considered decision in December which eliminated options that would have have cost more or delayed this vital project. I rebut fully the idea that partial information leads to better decision-making rather than full information and a considered and thorough thought process.
As I also said yesterday, the new children’s hospital project will transform the delivery of children's healthcare in Ireland, with major capital investment underpinned by a new model of care. The establishment of Children's Health Ireland by legislation passed by this Oireachtas at the end of last year was an important milestone and will further assist the ongoing operational and cultural integration of the three hospitals in advance of the opening of the new hospital and centres. There has been much discussion about governance recently but Deputies from all sides of the House had an opportunity to bring forward amendments when they voted to pass the Children's Health Bill at the end of 2018. The hospital will have a leadership role nationally in the implementation of the national model of care for paediatrics and neonatology, working closely with paediatric service providers in other hospitals across the country, in the primary care system and in the community.
We will replace outdated hospital buildings with modern and appropriate infrastructure, including fit-for-purpose, single en suite rooms for every child designed to best serve the needs of our children and their families and of the staff who care for them. There are currently only 14 theatres, including one cath lab, in the three existing hospitals, which has to be supplemented by outsourcing procedures to other hospitals. This limits our ability to tackle the long waiting times for surgery for children. In the new hospital there will be 22 theatres, including two cath labs, which will have a profoundly positive impact on activity levels and on theatre waiting times for children. The equipment at the new children’s hospital will include five MRls with space for two more, three CT scans, 30 ultrasounds and seven X-ray rooms, all of which will be state-of-the-art. New outpatient centres will be provided at Connolly and Tallaght hospitals, with the former opening later this year. Conversations relating to the new hospital often seem to be about a project that has not yet commenced, but part of it will open this year. These centres will expand outpatient and urgent care capacity and provide services in modern facilities. The three new sites will significantly increase capacity across all types of care, including increases of 16% in inpatient capacity, 7% in emergency department attendances, 26% in day case capacity and 47% in outpatient capacity levels. It is true that the costs of this project have increased significantly and taxpayers want to be assured, as does the Government, that their investment is being managed correctly. This is an investment that taxpayers were meant to make in the 1960s but, due to a failure of political leadership, it is now only about to be delivered in the 21st century. An inquiry is under way to understand the reasons for the cost escalation associated with the new children's hospital construction project and will report back by the end of next month. The report will be published and I welcome the constructive engagement of Deputy Donnelly and others in making sure that the terms of reference of the review are robust and that the focus will be on ways to reduce and mitigate costs. The primary focus of the review is on the governance and management arrangements in place within and between the NPHDB and executive, design team, relevant consultants, user groups and contractors. The review will deal with the accountability of the relevant key parties, functions and roles and this will inform appropriate next steps. As I said yesterday, the Government will act swiftly on its recommendations and is happy to work on a cross-party basis in that regard. The Government and I will not be found wanting when it comes to acting against any entity or any company where errors were made. If the report finds a requirement for governance or personnel changes, I have stated clearly that these will happen. It is important that we give the review an opportunity to undertake its work before drawing conclusions prematurely. Commissioning external reviews and then deciding the outcome of those reviews before they report is becoming all too commonplace in politics. Lessons must, and will, be learnt and the Cabinet took a number of decisions in that regard yesterday. Along with many others, I firmly believe that we are building the right hospital on the right site and for the right reasons. I was presented with three options: cancel the project, re-tender the project or proceed with the project. I know, and will always know, that the right decision was to proceed with the project. This hospital is now under construction. I invite Members to visit the Connolly site as it nears completion. I invite Members to visit the St. James's site to see the building work commenced as it comes overground. I have heard commentators suggest that we should just fill in the hole in the ground but there are bricks on top of bricks now. I invite Members to join me in ensuring that, while recognising and meeting legitimate and important concerns, we get on with delivering this vital project, and I assure the House of my willingness and desire to work on a cross-party basis in that regard.