The planned relocation of the National Maternity Hospital (NMH) looks set to move a step closer as the Department of Health has now finalised a review of the business case underpinning the move.
The move from Holles Street to the St Vincent’s hospital campus in Dublin could not proceed without an approved business plan that is agreed by the Department of Health and is then subjected to an external assurance process.
This external scrutiny was introduced as part of rules to avoid a repeat of the national children’s hospital budget overruns.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Health confirmed that the business case and review will be completed within weeks.
“The business case is now subject to technical review by the Department of Health and the external assurance process recently introduced by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. This independent review focuses on issues such as cost, risk and ability to deliver. It is expected that this review will be completed in the coming weeks.
“Pending favourable review under the spending code, a memorandum for Government will then be brought forward to progress the programme for the NMH.”
If approval in principle is granted by Government, the project can then move to the tendering stage to find contractors, the spokeswoman said.
Amid concerns about the length of time tendering can take, a strategy is being developed to allow the Government to move quickly on the public procurement process.
This is being completed “in parallel to and without prejudice to Government sanction to deploy the procurement strategy”, the department said.
They said there is no financial or formal commitment by the State in undertaking those preparatory steps.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Public Expenditure said the business case and external review are required to be submitted to their department for consideration by a major projects advisory group before seeking Government approval.
“For major projects — those with estimated costs in excess of €100 million — an external assurance process has been put in place to provide independent project scrutiny at the approval in principle stage and at pretender approval stage. These independent reviews will focus on issues such as cost, risk and ability to deliver.
“The more work that is done on the earlier stages leads to more considered decisions on projects and better outcomes.”
The relocation of the NMH was approved by Cabinet in May following months of controversy and contentious debate.
In April, the Religious Sisters of Charity transferred its shareholding in St Vincent’s Healthcare Group (SVHG) to another entity, St Vincent’s Holdings, which will lease the land, on which it is proposed to building the new NMH, for 299 years.
The Government was accused by Opposition parties of failing to deliver a publicly owned hospital on publicly owned land. Questions were also raised about why the land was not being sold or gifted to the State.
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said instead of ensuring a “clean-cut transaction”, where the site would come into public ownership, the deal signed off on by Cabinet “ensures that the hospital has a private landlord under a very convoluted ownership model”.
The Government contends that the specific lease represented a form of ownership.
There were also fears in some quarters that potential lingering religious influence could mean abortions or fertility treatment would not be allowed to take place at the new hospital.
Those concerns were dismissed by the Government and the hospital’s supporters in the medical community.