State to control new National Maternity Hospital site under fresh proposals

Terms include a 299-year lease of the site and an increase in the number of public-interest directors

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

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The State will take control of the new National Maternity Hospital (NMH) site for 299 years under fresh proposals to finally settle the row over its governance.

An increase in the number of public interest directors on the board of the new €800 million hospital is also in prospect as efforts step up to bring the long dispute to an end.

St Vincent’s Healthcare Group, owner of the Elm Park site in south Dublin, last night said agreements had been reached with the public authorities to change the terms on which the new hospital will be governed.

“We are very pleased to confirm that discussions have concluded and our proposal of an extended lease and enhanced board representation have been accepted by the Department of Health and the NMH board,” a spokeswoman said in response to questions from The Irish Times.

She added that St Vincents Healthcare Group has constantly sought to work with the NMH and government to deliver a much needed maternity hospital for the women of Ireland.

Controversy

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 to lease the new maternity hospital site to the State for 99 years with a 50-year extension. But critics claimed a Catholic religious ethos would live on, possibly compromising the hospital’s power to carry out services such as pregnancy termination.

The Government has always rejected such claims, saying the new hospital will have operational and clinical independence to deliver all services that are permitted in the State.

Still, Coalition leaders have expressed disquiet about aspects of the governance and lease arrangements. Ministers’ preference was for the State to buy the site outright but St Vincent’s Healthcare Group said it must retain ownership “for clinical, governance and operational reasons”.

Now new terms have been settled for the lease of the site and governance, although they await final sign-off at Government level. “It’s getting close,” said one senior participant in the talks.

At a meeting on Wednesday, the National Maternity Hospital board gave its approval for a proposal which will in effect double the duration of the original lease that was on offer. “The Health Service Executive will own the building on a ground lease of 299 years and there will be a change to the board composition,” said an informed source.

The prolonged lease duration and board changes were confirmed by a second source briefed on the talks but is understood that the HSE board has yet to sign off on the plan.

New arrangement

In the new arrangement there will be three public-interest directors on the board which 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 will drop to three from four and the number of directors from the National Maternity Hospital will also drop to three from four.

The result is that there will 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 the NMH.

The change to board representation is in keeping with concerns highlighted in recent months by Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Tánaiste Leo Varadkar.

Mr Martin has insisted there can be no semblance or even perception of religious influence in the new hospital. At one point in recent months the Taoiseach said he had not ruled out placing a compulsory purchase order on the site but he also warned that such action could jeopardise the entire project.

Catholic ethos

Similarly, Mr Varadkar has guaranteed that abortion, IVF and other procedures contrary to Catholic ethos will be carried out in the new hospital.

Critics of the lease arrangement include Dr Peter Boylan, former master of the NMH, who has campaigned against it for years and has questioned “unverified assurances” about the services the new hospital would provide.

In June a group of 42 senior NMH clinicians expressed concern that “misinformation” and “misunderstanding” around the planned hospital relocation could delay the move.They said that all procedures will be available, including pregnancy terminations and assisted reproduction services.

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