Coalition leaders yet to see proposed deal on maternity hospital

Changes to board structure a ‘smoke and mirrors’ exercise, say campaigners

An artist’s impression of the new National Maternity Hospital. The move to the St Vincent’s campus in Dublin 4 has been in train since 2013 but has been mired in controversy

An artist’s impression of the new National Maternity Hospital. The move to the St Vincent’s campus in Dublin 4 has been in train since 2013 but has been mired in controversy

 

Coalition party leaders have yet to see the detail of a new deal on the National Maternity Hospital but there is optimism that the plans may be sufficient to alleviate Government concerns over governance of the hospital.

The Irish Times reported at the weekend that the State would take control of the new National Maternity Hospital (NMH) site for 299 years under fresh proposals aimed at settling the ongoing rows over its governance.

Under the new arrangement there would also be three public-interest directors on the board that will run the hospital, a change from the original proposal to have only one such director.

The number of St Vincent’s directors on the board would drop to three from four and the number of directors from the National Maternity Hospital would also drop to three from four. The result is that there would be three directors each representing the public interest, St Vincent’s and the NMH instead of one for the public interest and four each for St Vincent’s and the NMH.

A senior Government source said the three party leaders had not yet been briefed on the plans and that they were keen to closely examine the documents underpinning any such new deal.

The source said if the deal receives final Government approval, it could allow construction to get under way within 18 months whereas any rejection of the deal could mean the Government has to go “back to the drawing board”.

‘Intransigence’

The Make Our National Maternity Hospital Public campaign said on Sunday, however, that the proposed deal would not settle rows on governance and that they are “merely a smoke and mirrors exercise to deflect from legitimate concerns around ownership, and the intransigence of an organisation determined to hold on to a valuable asset”.

“Extending the length of a lease over the site, which the St Vincent’s Healthcare Group insists it must own for ‘clinical, governance and operational reasons’ does nothing to instil confidence regarding the independence of the new hospital. If ownership of the site is necessary for governance, the State must own it,” said the group, whose organisers include theatre nurse and trade unionist Jo Tully and academic Ailbhe Smyth.

‘Vehemently opposed’

“We remain unconvinced of the wisdom of transferring the National Maternity Hospital to the St Vincent’s site, and vehemently opposed to the handover of a publicly constructed, publicly funded facility to a private charity.”

The campaign will hold a vigil at the Dáil this Thursday to remember Savita Halappanavar on the ninth anniversary of her death, and to “highlight the need for public, secular ownership of our new National Maternity Hospital”.

The plan to move the National Maternity Hospital from Holles Street in central Dublin to the St Vincent’s campus has been in train since 2013 but the project has been mired in controversy for years.

The Religious Sisters of Charity are due to transfer the ownership of lands at St Vincent’s to an independent entity, which was initially due to lease the new maternity hospital site to the State for 99 years with a 50-year extension. Critics have claimed a Catholic religious ethos will live on, possibly compromising the hospital’s power to carry out services such as pregnancy termination.