Planned move of National Maternity Hospital in jeopardy

Board of St Vincent’s to review move to religious-owned site in wake of controversy

Illustration of the  new National Maternity Hospital, plans for which have been thrown into jeopardy on Friday evening.

Illustration of the new National Maternity Hospital, plans for which have been thrown into jeopardy on Friday evening.

 

The planned move of the National Maternity Hospital to a religious-owned site at St Vincent’s Hospital is in jeopardy after the board of St Vincent’s said it plans to review the status of the project.

The board says the decision is prompted by “controversy and misinformation that has arisen in recent times” and the views expressed by Minister for Health Simon Harris and other TDs.

Opposition politicians have heavily criticised the deal reached between the NMH and St Vincent’s last November after it emerged that the maternity hospital will be built on land owned by the Sisters of Charity.

The hospital is to be run by a subsidiary company of St Vincent’s Healthcare Group, which is owned by the order.

The new hospital on the St Vincent’s campus was scheduled to begin construction this year. Doctors say the hospital’s current premises at Holles Street in Dublin city centre is no longer fit for purpose.

The new hospital is to be owned by the St Vincent’s group, which in turn is owned by the Sisters of Charity order of nuns.

It is currently estimated that the hospital will cost €300 million, which will be funded by the State.

In a brief statement, the St Vincent’s group pointed out that a “comprehensive” agreement was reached between the two hospitals last November following six months of intensive discussions chaired by mediator Kieran Mulvey.

‘Publicly endorsed’

“That agreement was publicly endorsed and welcomed by both the Minister for Health, Deputy Simon Harris, and the Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, at a press briefing that evening in Government Buildings.

From left, Kay Connolly, chief operations officer; Simon Harris, Minister for Health and Dr Rhona Mahony, Master of the National Maternity Hospital, with a model of the new hospital at St Vincent’s Hospital in March. File photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times
From left, Kay Connolly, chief operations officer; Simon Harris, Minister for Health and Dr Rhona Mahony, Master of the National Maternity Hospital, with a model of the new hospital at St Vincent’s Hospital in March. File photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

“In view of the controversy and misinformation that has arisen in recent times regarding the project, and the views expressed by the Minister for Health and other members of the Oireachtas, the board of St Vincent’s Healthcare Group will review the status of the project in light of the current situation.”

The group said it does not intend to make any further comment pending this review.

Fianna Fáil health spokesperson Billy Kelleher called on Mr Harris to publish the deal reached between the NMH and St Vincent’s.

Mr Harris has indicated he will provide the document to the Oireachtas health committee, but Mr Kelleher said the details of all reports, reviews and deals should be published “so people can ascertain the facts”.

In Galway, the outgoing president of the Irish Medical Organisation, Dr John Duddy, called on doctors to put aside their differences and unite behind major infrastructural developments.

Ongoing “turf wars” over the National Maternity Hospital and the national children’s hospital do not help patients when women deserve modern, 21st-century healthcare facilities, he told the IMO’s annual conference.

Tonight, Mr Harris insisted the independence of the new hospital as provided for in the agreement would also be “copperfastened” by new legal arrangements.

He expressed confidence the protections he has identified against religious interference would be met as the project proceeds to development. Further stages of the process would involve the Minister putting in place “appropriate legal mechanisms”.

Mr Harris pointed out the State has made substantial investments over the years in religious-owned voluntary hospitals, including a €266 million development at the Mater hospital in 2013 and a new wing of St Vincent’s opened at a cost of €29 million in 2012.

Protesters rally against the granting of the new National Maternity Hospital to the Sisters of Charity at the Department of Health in Hawkins House, Dublin, this week. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times
Protesters rally against the granting of the new National Maternity Hospital to the Sisters of Charity at the Department of Health in Hawkins House, Dublin, this week. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

‘Outrageous’

Earlier, well-known oncologist Prof John Crown described as “outrageous” the plan to hand over the ownership of the new national maternity hospital to an order of nuns.

He criticised the former chairman of the Workplace Relations Commission Kieran Mulvey, who acted as a mediator between the National Maternity Hospital and St Vincent’s Hospital during the negotiation process, leading to a new maternity hospital being owned by the Sisters of Charity.

Prof Crown said it was “simply extraordinary” that Mr Mulvey could believe that the Sisters of Charity have no role in running St Vincent’s and will have no role in running the new maternity hospital on the grounds of St Vincent’s Hospital.

Prof Crown said the board of the hospital was appointed by the nuns and acts in the interest of the nuns. “You don’t see nuns swishing around the hospital any more, but everybody who sits on the board is there because of the Sisters of Charity ultimately.”

He also said it was “outrageous” that the State had decided to hand over the new hospital to an order of nuns who have not paid the State all the money it owes under the terms of the redress scheme.

Prof Crown tweeted after the announcement that the new maternity hospital would be exclusively owned by the Sisters of Charity: “That the authorities in St Vincent’s have acted in a sectarian fashion is, I’m afraid, a matter of public record.”