Children’s hospital without maternity facility ‘risks catastrophe’

Former master of Coombe will warn PAC of dangers of proceeding without co-location

Construction of the national children’s hospital on the current site should proceed only if a maternity hospital can be accommodated beside it, the Dáil public accounts committee will be told on Thursday.

The State risks a "financial and medical catastrophe" if the children's hospital is built at St James's Hospital but there is no space for a maternity hospital, Prof Chris Fitzpatrick will tell the committee.

“If a maternity [hospital] can never be built on this site or if when the children’s hospital is built, there is simply no room left for one, then the State will have built the most expensive hospital in the world on the wrong site,” Prof Fitzpatrick, a former master of the Coombe hospital, warns.

At present, more than 200 critically ill newborns are transferred by “hazardous” ambulance journey from maternity hospitals to Crumlin and Temple Street children’s hospitals, he points out. The mortality rate is up to one in five.

“If we proceed to build a children’s hospital without a co-located maternity hospital, nothing will change for these babies and for their mothers in the foreseeable future, or ever,” says Prof Fitzpatrick.

“Despite the long delays, the change of site to St James’s, the exorbitant costs, the stunning architecture and all the spin – they will still be travelling in ambulances around Dublin, separated from their mothers.”

‘Collective obligation’

“What is happening is wrong. I believe we have a collective moral obligation to put it right now, before it’s too late and there’s no money and no space and before there is yet another long list of priorities and more crises to be dealt with.”

Prof Fitzpatrick says the current site for the children’s hospital should be independently stress-tested for costs and its capacity to accommodate a maternity hospital. Depending on the outcome of this process, it should either go ahead or be moved to Connolly Hospital Blanchardstown.

Connolly’s campus has “unrivalled advantages” and deserves to be considered, but the St James’s project is “probably past its tipping point”, he says. If the site can accommodate a maternity hospital, this should be started immediately “lest it is never built”.

The St James’s site includes three acres of adjacent space for a maternity hospital but to date no move has been made to start this project.