In recent weeks there has been significant debate and discussion about the development of the new national children’s hospital and the increase in the cost of the project. These statements provide another opportunity to discuss the issue following the publication last week of the report of the independent review of the escalation in the national children’s hospital costs. Last week we had a good, lengthy discussion, with questions and answers, at the Joint Committee on Health. With the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Donohoe, I will revert to the Government with proposals to respond to the PricewaterhouseCoopers report and implement the recommendations within one month.
I reiterate the extreme disappointment and deep unhappiness the Government and I, as well as all those involved in the project, feel at the cost escalation over that originally committed to by the Government in 2017. That is why on 18 December, at the same time as the Government approved the construction investment to allow phase B of the hospital to be constructed, the Government also approved the commissioning of an independent review of the cost of the capital project. As Deputies will be aware, the independent, comprehensive review process was carried out to examine the contributory factors and associated responsibilities in order that any potential weakness would be identified and comprehensively and speedily resolved in the interests of the successful completion of the project and the effective management of public funds. The terms of reference also required the review to address major residual risks, control and oversight issues and bring greater oversight of performance and value for money. It was also required to develop recommendations which might identify any area of potential cost savings or reductions consistent with the applicable contractual undertakings and the delivery of the project.
The report on the review process was considered by the Government last week, on 9 April, and published that day. I was always clear that it would inform the next steps by decision makers, including the Government. The Government noted the findings made in the report and, as I stated, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and I will revert to it in one month with an outline of our plan for implementation of the recommendations made in the report.
Our two Departments have begun work on this, giving detailed consideration to the findings and recommendations and how best to move forward to ensure, as was the ultimate purpose of the review, and it bears repeating, that any potential weaknesses are identified and comprehensively and speedily resolved in the interests of the successful completion of this much-needed project and the effective management of public funds.
The Government is committed to ensuring the successful completion of this project and let there be no doubt about this. While the views that we all share regarding the cost of this project are legitimate, I know that none of us forgets that the purpose of the project is to deliver transformational change to the delivery of healthcare for children in Ireland. I have said many times before, and I reiterate here again today, that the children and young people of Ireland have been waiting far too long for a modern healthcare facility, and this new children's hospital project will transform the delivery of children's healthcare in our country.
The new children's hospital project will be a game changer in the delivery of services for children. The successful delivery of that game changer is why we need to be very careful in our consideration of the specific and significant recommendations of the PwC report. In all, there are 11 recommendations, of which nine are directly linked to the new children's hospital project and the management and mitigation of the residual risk of potential further cost escalation. The other two are relevant to the delivery of major capital projects generally in Ireland and, as such, come under the remit of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Donohoe, and I will revert to Government in May to outline our implementation plan for the recommendations contained in the report. I do not intend to comment in detail on our response to the report in advance of completion of these deliberations.
On the report's recommendations, the first nine recommendations of the report, namely, those relating to this project, identify steps to be taken by all stakeholders in the project relating to project delivery, control and assurance. These range from a review and, if necessary a revision, of the scope and responsibilities of the advisory firms that constitute the design team to reflect their future roles in the performance monitoring of contractors, to strengthening the capacity and capability of the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board executive, and right through to putting in place a scrutiny process that includes all levels of the governance structures to review all proposals that are focused on reducing the gross maximum price.
As I have said, the Department is working on this implementation plan, mindful there is not a moment to lose in ensuring that any deficiencies are addressed, including, where necessary, developing and implementing more robust project control and project assurance plans appropriate for a project of this national importance right throughout the remaining construction programme. In doing so, consideration will need to be given to the report's warning of potential loss of corporate knowledge. This is appropriate, now that the focus is on maintaining corporate knowledge and expertise and on strengthening and supporting the project by building further capacity and capability. The recently appointed chair of the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board is very mindful of this and will work with the Department, the HSE and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform to ensure that the board and the executive are supported while also challenged in their statutory role to deliver the new children's hospital project.
The terms of reference for the independent review required the report to be completed by 29 March. This was extended by a week to enable fact checking to be completed. As Deputies are aware, the independent report concluded that taking any alternative course of action other than continuing with this project would, in all likelihood, have resulted in significant delay and increased costs and the possibility that the hospital would not be built. I was given advice by some in the House to take an alternative course of action, and the PwC report has found the correct judgment call was made at that stage to proceed with completion of the project.
This debate would not be complete without a reminder of the significant progress that has been made on the project. This progress was noted in the report of the independent review. After false starts and failures to build the hospital over many years, as referred to in the PwC report, the completion of enabling and underground works has been dealt with, amid difficult issues such as planning, and the project is now in the major construction phase. Considerable work has already been undertaken on the project, with Phase B above ground works under way at the St James's Hospital site. Works at the urgent care centre at Connolly Hospital are on target for practical completion of the building this month, with works at Tallaght Hospital urgent care centre under way, with a target handover date of July 2020. The facilities at Tallaght and Connolly hospitals, both of which will be open by next year, will see 33,000 additional children's outpatient appointments carried out. This will have a major impact on access to healthcare for children. Many Deputies in the House highlight all too often the fact we have long outpatient waiting lists. A total of 33,000 more children's outpatient appointments will take place between Connolly and Tallaght hospitals, both of which will be open by the middle of next year. However, it is imperative that lessons are learned from this project to date, for the completion of the project itself and for other capital projects in the State. This will be addressed by the Government in our response next month.
We have an unprecedented opportunity to deliver a very positive change in healthcare for Ireland's children and young people. While we must and will learn from the issues that have arisen in the project thus far, the priority is and continues to be delivering on the vision to improve services for the children and young people of Ireland. The establishment of Children's Health Ireland by legislation passed by the House at the end of last year was a major milestone and historic, and will further assist the ongoing operational integration of the three hospitals in advance of the opening of the new children's hospital and the outpatient and urgent care centres. The outpatient and urgent care centre at Connolly Hospital will start delivering improvements to healthcare for children this year, providing expanded outpatient and urgent care services in modern facilities under the responsibility of Children's Health Ireland. I have said many times, and reiterate here again, that children have been waiting far too long for this facility and the hospital project will transform the delivery of their healthcare. The capital investment will be underpinned and complemented by a new model of care for the delivery of service to children.
I invite Members to go to the St James's Hospital site, or to the Connolly Hospital campus, to see the progress that has been made. Since that invitation was issued at the time of the cost escalation controversy, very few Members have visited this site, met the project team and viewed the project. I suggest it is well worth doing. When they do, they will see that the project is finally, undeniably a reality and is a vital opportunity for children's health. Lessons must be learned and will be learned. The recommendations of the PwC report are accepted by the Government. The Minister, Deputy Donohoe, and I will put in place an implementation plan and we will report to the Government next month. At that stage, I will be very happy to have further debates in the appropriate fora.