Government guidelines core to any review of alternative locations


A clear mandate is required to look at other sites and ‘score’ them accordingly

THE KEY aspect of any review of plans for a national children’s hospital is whether the terms of reference provided by the Coalition are sufficiently broad to allow the review group to examine alternative locations to the restricted Mater site on Dublin’s northside.

As the New Children’s Hospital Alliance has noted, no group of advisers on this ill-fated project other than the internal Department of Health/Health Service Executive task group – which reported in June 2006 – actually examined alternatives to the Mater site.

The McKinsey report advocating “co-location” of a national children’s hospital with an adult teaching hospital (published in February 2006) preceded the task group’s report and made no recommendation on possible sites for such a facility, nor was it asked to do so.

The high-level framework brief for the project, drawn up in October 2007 by consultants RKW, took as “given” the McKinsey report and the decision of the task group, endorsed by the then government, that the children’s hospital should be on the Mater site.

The international “independent” review, commissioned by Minister for Health James Reilly after he took office and published last July, specifically was “not a site selection review”, according to the briefing notes handed out at the Department of Health at the time.

The first part was a financial analysis of the cost of building the children’s hospital on the Mater site, by comparison with “notional alternative sites” (Tallaght, Newlands Cross or Blanchardstown) and the second part reviewed the “clinical benefits” of the Mater site.

The review panel’s final report dropped a paragraph saying a greenfield site would be “the ideal location”. Chairman Jonathan Erskine told fellow members he removed it because of his concern “the issue will open up again” if it was left in.

Yet one of the issues raised by An Bord Pleanála in its “pre-planning” consultations with the department and the hospital’s developers – more than six months before the scheme was submitted – was about whether alternative sites had been examined.

The board advised the promoters should seek a legal opinion on carrying out an environmental impact assessment of the plan “in a situation where site location would not be based on planning considerations but . . . on a reliance on Government policy”.

What is needed now, however belatedly, is that the latest review group gets a clear mandate to look at alternative locations and “score” them against a range of criteria, including co-location, access by road and public transport, site capacity, scope for expansion, etc.

In the interests of transparency, openness and accountability, the review body’s report should be published before a decision is made. It must not simply be told by the Minister to rubber-stamp his preference for a “scaled down” version of the rejected scheme

Valerin O’Shea, who represented local residents at last autumn’s Bord Pleanála oral hearing, said if Taoiseach Enda Kenny really wanted a new children’s hospital to “last for 50 to 60 years”, he “should now take the lead and ensure that a much bigger site is chosen” for it.

“To plan for projected needs only until 2030 on such a restricted site [as the Mater] appears to me to be almost reckless given that there is virtually no room for expansion. Essentially . . . the planned children’s hospital would have been too small 14 years following completion.”

So if this applied to the behemoth of a hospital rejected by An Bord Pleanála, the likely lifespan of a scaled-down version, as suggested by Dr Reilly (with the “grandiose” and “oversized” elements of the project omitted to reduce its overwhelming bulk), could be even shorter.