State to pursue stake in National Maternity Hospital, says Harris

Public ownership element being included in pact to be reached by NMH and St Vincent’s

 

Minister for Health Simon Harris has indicated the State will seek a stake in the ownership of the new National Maternity Hospital (NMH) after its transfer to St Vincent’s Hospital campus, which is owned by a religious order.

Mr Harris issued a statement on Sunday night pointing to a public ownership element being included in the legal agreement that will be reached by the NMH and St Vincent’s later this summer.

Mr Harris’s statement comes after his Cabinet colleague Charlie Flanagan, Minister for Foreign Affairs, noted “public concern” surrounding the ownership of the new hospital.

There was an “issue regarding the ownership that needs to be resolved” and told RTÉ’s Week in Politics the Government “will move towards a position of clarification” on the matter over the next four weeks.

Mr Flanagan said there were various options to resolve the matter, including the possibility a long-term lease.

“I believe it’s important in the context of health and medicine and church and State that there be a separation of interest,” he added.

Mr Flanagan’s comments follow widespread criticism at the Government’s decision to give the St Vincent’s Healthcare Group sole ownership of the new hospital when it moves from Holles Street to the Elm Park campus, next to St Vincent’s University Hospital.

The Sisters of Charity are the shareholders of the St Vincent’s Healthcare Group.

The mediator responsible for brokering the hospital deal said he believes “creative solutions” over its ownership can be found that will satisfy the Sisters of Charity and State.

Former chairman of the Workplace Relations Commission Kieran Mulvey said in terms of ownership of the new hospital “a lot of things might materialise” before it is opened.

“If people give space to this, instead of all the hopping up and down they’re doing, if space is given for this over the period in which the planning of the facility is going ahead – the building, the staffing – I think over those two or three years other developments may or possibly could take place that might . . . be to everybody’s satisfaction,” he said.

“Time sometimes settles these things . . . what is essential at the moment is that the hospital gets built and that the services that are envisaged for the hospital and the facilities are provided because Holles Street . . . it’s not fit for purpose.

The National Maternity Hospital’s board has already provided assurances that the new facility at Elm Park in south Dublin will be run independently and will carry out procedures such as IVF, sterilisations and abortions, which are opposed by the Catholic Church.

Independence

Mr Mulvey said he is “100 per cent certain” the new hospital will have clinical and governance independence while statements from the board of St Vincent’s hospital “copper-fastened” this. “In a sense . . . what more do we need to do?” he asked.

National Maternity Hospital board member Dr Peter Boylan and relocation project planner Dr Chris Fitzpatrick resigned from their positions this week.

Mr Mulvey said the deal to move the hospital, which was published last Tuesday, should have been made available to the public sooner.

“People were not fully informed . . . my regret is that it wasn’t released earlier.”

Prof Declan Keane, clinical director and former master of the National Maternity Hospital said he is “in absolutely no doubt” the Sisters of Charity will have no role in the running of the new hospital.

“I’m very sensitive and I’m aware of this discussion over the last two weeks of the public’s concerns and it does seem no matter how much reassurance we can give the public, that we believe we will have complete clinical autonomy on the site. I think there is still concern that it’s moving to a site that is owned by the Sisters of Charity.

“But I am in absolutely no doubt that the nuns will have absolutely no say in the running of the new National Maternity Hospital,” he told RTÉ Radio 1’s This Week.

Dr Rhona Mahony, the master of the National Maternity Hospital, said the move should not be stopped because of a “sideshow” over possible religious interference.

She described the swift establishment of a new hospital as a “clinical imperative”.

Independent Senator Rónán Mullen said the Sisters of Charity have been portrayed as a “sinister force” and that he would prefer if the new hospital were to be built on a different site.

“I think this is a real sad mess. And I think I would prefer if this hospital wasn’t being built on this particular site at this stage.”