Department head accused of ‘disrespect’ over refusal to discuss hospital costs

Oireachtas health committee says it is disappointed at non-appearance of Robert Watt

   Department  of Public Expenditure and Reform secretary general Robert Watt: declined to appear before committee.  Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Department of Public Expenditure and Reform secretary general Robert Watt: declined to appear before committee. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

An Oireachtas committee has accused the head of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform of treating it with disrespect over his refusal to give evidence over cost overruns at the new national children’s hospital.

Chairman of the Oireachtas health committee, Dr Michael Harty, said members were disappointed at the refusal of department secretary general Robert Watt to appear before the committee.

Dr Harty said Mr Watt was treating the committee with disrespect, as his department had a responsibility to explain how the cost overruns would be funded and what the knock-on effects will be for spending in other departments.

The department had been asked on two occasions only to appear before the health committee and both times it had deemed it neither necessary nor appropriate to attend, Dr Harty said.

He was speaking at the start of Wednesday’s hearing into the cost overrun, which is being attended by representatives of the Department of Health and the HSE.

Mr Watt has told the committee his minister, Paschal Donohoe, attended a number of oversight committees and it would be “impractical” to attend all Oireachtas committees.

An additional €450 million will have to be found to cover a “very significant and disturbing” escalation in the cost of the new national children’s hospital, Colm Desmond, Department of Health assistant secretary general, told the committee.

The sum would include additional exchequer funding of €320 million and €130 million that is expected to be raised through philanthropy, he said.

Mr Desmond said the impact of the increased cost of the project at St James’s Hospital, which is now projected to cost €1.43 billion, will see the timing of other capital projects in health “managed within the available health capital allocations”.