Tuesday, 26 November 2019

Ceisteanna (38)

Stephen Donnelly


38. Deputy Stephen Donnelly asked the Minister for Health the status of the relocation of the three Dublin maternity hospitals to new sites; the planned dates for when the new hospitals will be open; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49072/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (10 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Health)

The Government has promised to deliver three maternity hospitals in the greater Dublin area. Holles Street hospital is meant to move to the St. Vincent's site. The Coombe is meant to move to the St. James's Hospital site and the Rotunda is meant to move to the Connolly Hospital site. Could the Minister provide an update on the progress that has been made? When will the hospitals be up and running on the new sites?

I thank the Deputy for his question. In line with best international practice, it is the policy of the Government and Oireachtas, as set out in the national maternity strategy, that stand-alone maternity hospitals will be co-located with acute adult hospitals. We should not have stand-alone maternity hospitals anymore.

Project Ireland 2040, our capital plan, provides €10.9 billion for health capital developments across the country, including funding to relocate the hospitals.

The Government is fully committed to the maternity hospital projects. The new maternity hospital at the St. Vincent's University Hospital campus will be the first of these to be developed. The transfers of the Coombe Women and Infants University Hospital, the Rotunda and University Maternity Hospital, Limerick, will follow.

The relocation of the National Maternity Hospital at Holles Street to the St. Vincent's University Hospital campus is progressing. A number of enabling works contracts in regard to the pharmacy block and the extension to the car park are in progress and are due to be completed next year. Let me be very clear, however, that the tender documents for the maternity hospital development will not be issued until such time as a legal framework to protect the State's significant investment has been agreed. I have heard much commentary on this in recent days. The Government's position is that it will not press "Go" on the full project until all the outstanding issues are resolved.

The relocation of the Rotunda to the Connolly Hospital campus is one of the key infrastructure projects to be funded. It is important that we carefully plan all projects to meet population health needs and achieve value for money. This work is ongoing. I have engaged with the Master of the Rotunda, RCSI hospitals and the HSE on the relocation of the Rotunda to Connolly Hospital. This included a meeting with these parties in July of this year.

A site for the proposed maternity hospital is identified in the St. James's Hospital campus master plan, and the new children's hospital design has allowed for the required operational links and clinical adjacencies with both maternity and adult hospitals to be provided. Trilocation for the Coombe will facilitate the transfer of critically ill mothers from the maternity hospital to St. James's.

Project briefs will be progressed in 2020 for the relocation of the Rotunda, Coombe and Limerick hospitals to acute hospital campuses. I acknowledge something the Deputy called for in the capital plan. We have now provided funding for the project briefs to be progressed for each of the projects in 2020. All our maternity hospital projects are required to progress through a number of approval stages, in line with the public spending code, which includes appraisal, planning, design and tender stages before a firm timeline or funding requirement can be established.

I asked for funding for the project briefs to be progressed this year, but next year is better than not at all. I want to go through my points one at a time. The Holles Street project is meant to have started by now. I understand that was the original plan. The Minister, fairly or unfairly, has been blamed for part of the delay by a chief justice at an Irish Hospital Consultants Association conference in Galway, on the basis that there was some spat between the Minister and the hospital and that he was blamed.

The work has not happened and the car park is not of much use to the patients.

We were promised by the Taoiseach, when he had the Minister's job, that the Coombe project would happen at the same time as the national children's hospital project. That has not happened. As I am sure the Minister is, I am talking to the clinicians involved and learning that the conditions are not safe. The Rotunda was promised that, at some point in the far distant future, it will end up on the Connolly Hospital site, but before that happens, there will have to be a model 4 adult hospital. In that context, the Rotunda has repeatedly asked for pretty modest funding to upgrade its existing facilities.

Does the Minister agree that the current conditions in all three hospitals are unacceptable for mothers, babies and clinicians? Does he accept that the delays are unacceptable and that they are delays rather than instances of everything proceeding according to plan? Most important, the only question that matters is whether the Minister has a date, even a year, for when the building of each of these hospitals will begin and, much more important, for when they will open.

The phrase "fairly or unfairly" is pretty loaded because one believes the accusation is either fair or unfair.

I do not know. That is why I asked.

As Minister for Health, I believe it is very fair. I hope that if the Deputy were in my position, he would adopt this approach also, such that we will not press "Go" on the building of the new national maternity hospital at the St. Vincent's campus until all the issues, including that of the religious orders leaving and all those associated with governance, are resolved and the hospital is in public ownership. I believe all of this can be achieved. There has been a lot of misinformation and scaremongering in this regard but I believe all these objectives can be achieved. My position is very clear in that regard.

That is not delaying the project, however, because the enabling works are ongoing on the pharmacy and car park, both of which will benefit our acute adult hospital anyway. Those works are due to be completed in 2020, at which stage we will go to tender for the national maternity hospital proper. We will press "Go" on that tender only after a Government decision and once the three clear commitments I have set out have been met. It is possible that the hospital could go to construction late in 2020, subject to the conditions being met.

While the Deputy is correct that it was always intended to proceed with the Coombe project alongside the national children's hospital project, it was never from a construction point of view. The children's hospital must be built first, and then the Coombe. The Deputy is correct that we should be preparing to go ahead with the construction of the Coombe. That is why the project brief will be produced.

With regard to the Rotunda, I agree there is a need to listen to Professor Malone on the interim works that should be carried out. I have asked Professor Malone and the HSE to come up with an agreed project concerning what could be done in the interim. I believe this work is almost finalised and I look forward to those concerned coming to see me in the coming weeks in this regard.

I thank the Chair and the Minister. On the promise on the Coombe, the exact wording of the Taoiseach was that the work would happen "in parallel". If the Minister tells me building A is going to be progressed in parallel with building B, it suggests to me that bricks will go up at the same time. That is pretty reasonable.

I would like to return to the core question again. We can go back and forth on the detail, which is fine, but ultimately the only question that matters to mothers, fathers, babies and staff is when. There must be a project plan for each hospital. Does the Minister have one for each? If so, will he share the date for when the new hospital will be open on the St. Vincent's site? When will the Coombe be opened on the St. James's site and when will the Rotunda be opened on the Connolly Hospital site? Ultimately, this is all that matters. Will the Minister commit to starting to provide funding in the next year's budget, in the service plan for the Rotunda? As the master said, and as we both know, it is only a matter of time until a baby dies because of the overcrowding the hospital is dealing with.

It is a very Dublin-centric question because the Deputy keeps on leaving out poor old Limerick. I am sure Deputy O'Dea would not be happy with that. We do intend to co-locate the four maternity hospitals, including the one in Limerick.

To answer the Deputy's question bluntly, Holles Street is the first in the queue. That is our intention. I hope, subject to the criteria I have set out being met by all involved, that construction can begin on it towards the end of 2020.

With regard to the Coombe, we need to go to tender. If I start giving out dates on the floor of the Dáil on the tender process and the construction project, the Deputy will come back to me in ten years saying I said this or that. We need to allow the tender process to proceed. That is fair. The Coombe will go to construction, but when the children's hospital is finished. What we will do in the meantime is proceed with all the planning and development that needs to be done in this regard.

With regard to the Rotunda, my priority, while I am committed to the bigger move, is to see how we can help the master with the interim works that need to be carried out. I wish to see funding provided for this. I need to meet Professor Malone and representatives of the HSE on this in the coming weeks. I have asked them to present their agreed plan formally to my Department and I will endeavour to respond positively.