Minister urges broad discussion on ownership in health service

Harris rejects calls to compulsorily acquire site of new National Maternity Hospital

Health Minister Simon Harris TD has called for a 'period of calm and cool heads' in relation to the debate over the new National Maternity Hospital and stated his determination to build it on the lands at St Vincent's Hospital. Video: Bryan O'Brien

 

Minister for Health Simon Harris has called for a “discussion” on ownership in the health service, which could lead to lead to hospitals moving from religious to State control.

Mr Harris said he intended to bring proposals to Government to have a broader discussion about ownership in the health service, similar to that seen in recent years in education.

The forum on patronage and pluralism set up by former Labour minister for education Ruairí Quinn was a useful model to follow, he suggested.

The report of the forum recommended in 2012 that religious schools in 28 areas divest to multinational patrons, though progress in giving effect to this has been slow.

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In the ongoing controversy over the proposed relocation of the National Maternity Hospital (NMH) to St Vincent’s Hospital, Mr Harris rejected calls for the State to compulsorily acquire the site from its owners, the Sisters of Charity. A CPO was not the ideal situation, he said, because it would lead to legal difficulties “for years”, when use of the site was being offered free.

He said the Cabinet endorsed his call for “cool heads” in the row and repeated his plea for a month of “calm” during which the issues surrounding the move can be teased out with the two hospitals.

Strong support

Mr Harris briefed his Government colleagues on the row over the new maternity hospital yesterday, where he received strong support from colleagues to push ahead with the project.

However, Ministers did not discuss possible changes to the ownership of the new hospital, which had previously been flagged in Government circles as an answer to public concerns.

Mr Harris has indicated to colleagues that some changes to the proposed ownership by the Sisters of Charity of the new maternity hospital would be considered, though it is understood this could be addressed by means of a long lease granted by St Vincent’s to the new hospital. However, informed sources say that there is no appetite on the part of either of the hospitals to reopen the ownership question.

A Government spokesman said the process involving the two hospitals and the Department of Health to give legal effect to the agreement between the hospitals could take place “in a less shrill atmosphere”.

Political sources say the Government is anxious to see the controversy defused before TDs returns from their Easter break next week, when the issue is sure to be raised on the floor of the Dáil.