HSE’s rental of Citywest hotel during pandemic an ‘impressive achievement’ – audit

Public bodies should have power to requisition private property in any future national emergency – review

Public bodies should have the power to requisition private property in any future national emergency, a review of the Health Service Executive's rental of the Citywest hotel and conference facility during the Covid-19 pandemic has recommended.

Occupancy rates at the 800-room hotel at Citywest never exceeded 21.5 per cent due to lower than expected usage by self-isolating healthcare workers and Covid-19 patients, according to an internal audit of the arrangement.

Despite this, and a lack of flexibility in the original contract negotiated with Citywest’s owners, the audit described the HSE’s rental of the facility at short notice as an “impressive achievement”.

The management of controls relating to the arrangement was satisfactory, according to their report.


In late March 2020, the HSE leased the complex at Saggart, Co Dublin, to provide hotel and field hospital facilities. The lease had an option to terminate after seven months; this was exercised by the HSE and a new lease on different terms was entered into from late October 2020 to last June.

As the report recalls, projects in March 2020 forecast an additional 3,000 people a day needing hospital treatment “and that it could be as high as 14,000”.

"This would overwhelm the current acute bed capacity and additional bed capacity such as step-down beds needed to be put in place as soon as possible." The Department of Health approved a negotiated cost of €3.51 million per month for a minimum of seven months, or a total of €24.57 million.

This was based on a room rate of €142.50 including VAT, or €122.68 when VAT was later exempted.

Due to the success of pandemic control measures nationally, the occupancy of the hotel in the six months from April to September was only 13.8 per cent, according to the audit report. Occupancy went from a low of 7.3 per cent in June 2020 to 21.5 in August.

According to the auditors, “the necessity for large-scale isolation facilities for people affected by the virus had not been planned for when Covid-19 struck Ireland”.

“HBS Estates [the property division of the HSE] were suddenly presented with the task of sourcing such facilities under conditions of extreme urgency and uncertainty, and they succeeded in doing so by securing the Citywest campus, an eminently suitable premises, with a fully worked-out service contract with the owner, in under three weeks.”

The HSE’s community operations division brought the self-isolation facility into use immediately. “This impressive achievement is not diminished by the fact that the assumption of full occupancy turned out, fortunately, to be unrealised, and that the first licence did not contain the more flexible utilisation provisions as negotiated in the second licence, which superseded the original at the first opportunity after seven months.

“The experience, however, suggests some points for consideration in future planning for public health emergencies which may occur on a similar scale.”

The report says the HSE “should communicate to the Department of Health the need to consider legal powers for public authorities to requisition private property in the event of future national public health emergencies”.

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is Health Editor of The Irish Times