Green Minister backs maternity hospital plan after ‘reassurances’

Catherine Martin’s decision paves way for full Cabinet approval next week

Green Party Minister Catherine Minister has given her backing to the relocation of the new National Maternity Hospital (NMH) for the first time, paving the way for full Cabinet approval next week.

In a statement, Ms Martin said she had received reassurances from Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly, the NMH, the Health Service Executive as well as St Vincent’s Healthcare Group.

Her comments clear the way for Cabinet approval next Tuesday after Fine Gael Ministers who previously raised concerns rowed in behind it last weekend.

“I am satisfied that following assurances received, including written assurances I received containing required additional clarifications, including from the St Vincent’s Healthcare Group, that this has resulted in greater transparency around this project. I now believe that the safeguards and protections are there to protect services for women,” Ms Martin said.

In a letter sent to Ms Martin by St Vincent’s Hospital, the chair James Menton confirmed in writing that the following procedures would be available in the new NMH: “Termination of pregnancy, voluntarily sterilisation (tubal ligation), gender affirming care, fertility and assisted human reproduction treatments.”

Earlier, NMH master Shane Higgins said he would support changes to legal documents around the relocation of the hospital, amid concerns about a contentious phrase about clinical appropriateness.

Legal codicil

Government sources have confirmed that work is under way on a legal codicil which would clarify a statement in the documents that says procedures would be available in the hospital where “clinically appropriate and legally permissible”.

A number of Coalition TDs on Thursday called for the phrase to be clarified amid concerns that it created ambiguity around who would decide what may or not be clinically appropriate in the hospital.

At a press briefing on Friday, Mr Higgins said the NMH would support either defining the term “clinically appropriate” or removing it.

Asked if he would be open to clarifying the phrase, Mr Higgins said: “There are three stakeholders involved in the legal framework but on behalf of the NMH, we would be open to that. We understand why it was there, although we can see exactly how much concern has been caused and that didn’t cross our minds when it was put in. Having seen how much upset it has caused, we certainly would be open to either defining or removing it.”

Mr Higgins said that while Holles Street provides a very safe service, much of the buildings are “antiquated” and “unfit for purpose”.

He also restated that there would be no religious ethos in the new NMH.

“We don’t believe there will be any impact on the services we provide through any Catholic ethos, or any other ethos for that matter.”

Fact sheet

In a fact sheet circulated on Friday morning, the NMH denied that it would be better for the State to own the freehold of the land and the building.

Asked about statements from politicians that it would have been preferable to own the land, and have the hospital run by the State, Mr Higgins said some issues had been conflated but that “at no point did we have a conversation about becoming a HSE hospital, which is not to say anything negative about the HSE”.

The Government has moved this week to allay concerns about the move which centred on governance, ownership and ethos given the new hospital is to be built on land which will be leased to the State for 299 years by a new company, St Vincent’s Holdings.

The Religious Sisters of Charity recently transferred their shareholding in St Vincent’s to the company and said they would have no further involvement in healthcare on the campus.

Mr Boylan has called for the publication of all correspondence between the Religious Sisters of Charity and the Vatican around the decision to transfer their shareholdings.

Speaking at the briefing on Friday morning, legal adviser to the NMH Alice Murphy said she had not seen the documents which allowed for the alienation of the sisters’ assets but she did not consider them to be of relevance. She said to those who said otherwise: “I am very much inclined to ask them to prove it.”