Rhona Mahony: New hospital will revolutionise healthcare for women and children

‘New hospital will continue to offer contraception and termination when mother’s life is in danger’

The future location of the National Maternity Hospital has been cast in doubt over the space of a week. The €300 million project would have placed sole ownership of the hospital under the Sisters of Charity. Paul Cullen reports. Video: Enda O'Dowd


The Master of the National Maternity Hospital Dr Rhona Mahony has said the newly constructed facility St Vincent’s University Hospital will “revolutionise healthcare for women and children”.

The controversial €300 million move of the National Maternity Hospital from Holles Street in Dublin to a religious-owned site at St Vincent’s is back on track after both institutions gave assurances about its autonomy.

“This hospital is going to revolutionise healthcare for women and children. No misinformation or side show must get in the way of this focus,” Dr Mahony said on Wednesday morning.

Referring to objections to the ownership of the new hospital and the ensuing disagreement between board members, she added: “This is a storm in a teacup. It is a side show”

Speaking on Newstalk Breakfast, she emphasised the new hospital would be “an absolutely independent entity, an independent company with an independent board.”

“It will not come under any religious ethos. The ethos will be clinical excellence. We will provide the same services as now.

“This will be an independent hospital in every way, it will not be entrusted to the Sisters of Charity in any way.

“We must not get lost in a conversation that is suppositional.”

The order of nuns is to be given ownership of the new €300 million State-funded National Maternity Hospital because they are shareholders of the St Vincent’s Healthcare Group, which the Department of Health said would be the “sole owner of the new hospital”.

The new hospital is to be built on a site at Elm Park in south Dublin. The relocation of the hospital from Holles Street to the St Vincent’s hospital campus involves the largest single investment ever made in maternity services in the State.

Proceeds from the sale of Holles Street will go towards funding the new maternity hospital.

In a later interview on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Dr Mahony said: “The nuns do not want to run this hospital. They are happy for the woman and babies of Ireland to have access to the best possible healthcare.

“There will be no difference in the services we offer. We will continue to offer contraception, termination when the mother’s life is in danger, IVF. We will do that without hesitation.”

When asked if her predecessor Dr Peter Boylan should resign, she said “that’s up to him.”

“The reason why this is so important is that we are practicing 21st-century medicine in a building that is crumbling in a stand alone hospital on the edge of Merrion Square – five to 10 women are transferred every year because they are critically ill to intensive care and every year several hundred women have to access the excellent services that are available in St Vincent’s hospital.

“We have been working with St Vincent’s hospital for 100 years. They are an excellent hospital and there are many woman alive today because they provide the sophisticated tertiary services that is not readily available all over Ireland.

“It is going to represent a huge shift upwards in the standard of care that will be given to women and infants and nothing must get in the way of that, particularly not misinformation or sideshows.”

Dr Mahony explained she and the acting chairman of the board Nicholas Kearns had called for Dr Boylan’s resignation over the text he sent, not because of the opinion he expressed, but because it was a matter of corporate governance.

“The text was intimidatory, but it is normal corporate governance for a person to resign from a board before speaking out against it.”

Texts between Dr Boylan, who is objecting to the Elm Park move, Dr Mahony and Mr Kearns emerged on Tuesday in which Mr Kearns and Dr Mahony called for Dr Boylan’s resignation from the board of the National Maternity Hospital.

Former master of the Rotunda hospital Dr Sam Coulter Smith has warned against any “outside interference” in the running of the National Maternity Hospital.

Dr Coulter Smith said he shared the concerns expressed about the autonomy of the hospital when it moves to the site owned by the Sisters of Charity.

He said former Dr Boylan was right to raise his concerns about the clinical independence of the hospital in its new location.

“He’s absolutely right to raise these issues. They need to be out there now, so clarity can be achieved on the governance arrangements. There cannot be outside interference with the hospital from any organisation.”

“You can get all the reassurances in the world but once you are in new governance arrangements you don’t know how it’s going to work,” he told The Irish Times.

One solution to the concerns expressed would be for the nuns to sell or gift the site to the State, he suggested. “There should be no doubt about ownership, governance and clinical independence. They have to be protected.”

The Rotunda is due to move to the State-owned Connolly Hospital, though preparations are at a every early stage.

Mr Coulter Smith said Connolly would need significant upgrading before co-location with the maternity hospital takes place, but a development plan was being worked on.

Minister for Health Simon Harris has called for “cool heads” following the row.

Speaking on Wednesday morning before briefing Cabinet colleagues about the issue, Mr Harris said he would meet representatives from both hospitals in the coming weeks and report back to Cabinet and the Oireachtas Health Committee at the end of May.

“There is really a need for cool heads here,” he said.

He welcomed assurances about the autonomy of the new hospital from both institutions, which he said addressed public concerns, and added he believed the project would not be delayed.

Criticism of move

Dr Boylan has been highly critical of the move and confirmed he would not resign from his position of the board.

“I’m not going to resign, I don’t feel I should. There is a question of loyalty to the board. I feel a loyalty to the women of Ireland and I believe that granting ownership of the national maternity hospital to the Catholic church is wrong,” he said.

Dr Boylan wrote in The Irish Times last week he did not believe the ownership of a €300 million state-of-the-art hospital should be gifted to the Sisters of Charity.

“The proposed structure means that the four directors nominated by St Vincent’s Healthcare Group will have fundamental religious objections to a significant part of the clinical work of the hospital,” he said.

“In a power struggle who is more likely to win? Is it likely to be the owners of the hospital and the company tasked with running it?”

Sr Agnes Reynolds, a member of the St Vincent’s Healthcare Group board, has previously said the hospital would “always respect the rights of the mother and the baby”.

She declined to comment on concerns about the congregation’s ownership of the hospital influencing the medical care provided.

Sr Agnes said she “can’t make a judgment on that”.