Varadkar hits out at ‘political scaremongering’ over children’s hospital

Taoiseach says claims rising cost will see other projects scrapped are ‘fake’ and ‘made-up’

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said the cost of the new national children’s hospital is just 1.3 per cent of the annual health budget. Photograph: The Irish Times

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said the cost of the new national children’s hospital is just 1.3 per cent of the annual health budget. Photograph: The Irish Times

 

Moves by all of the State’s standalone maternity hospitals onto adult hospital campuses will be progressed under the Health Service Executive’s 2019 capital plan, published on Monday.

Construction of the National Maternity Hospital on the St Vincent’s University Hospital campus is expected to begin late next year or in early 2021, according to the plan.

Project briefs for the relocation of Limerick, the Rotunda and the Coombe maternity hospitals to acute hospital campuses are being progressed this year, while enabling works for a new maternity unit at University Hospital Galway will start early next year.

The plan lists a number of risks, including future construction inflation, and an increase in costs caused by new building standards.

Opposition parties said the plan, launched on Monday by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and fellow ministers, lacked detail and credibility.

However, Mr Varadkar hit out at “political scaremongering” over the cost overruns at the new national children’s hospital project.

He said claims the rising cost of the children’s hospital would force the scrapping of other health projects were “fake” and “made-up”.

Speaking at the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dún Laoghaire, he said just 1.3 per cent of the entire annual health budget this year was being spent on the children’s hospital, and it accounted for just 0.4 per cent of total Government expenditure.

While it was “certainly not a good thing” the €1.7 billion project was over budget, he stressed there was “plenty of money” for other health projects.

The €11 billion investment in health capital projects planned for the next decade was almost twice the amount provided in the previous 10 years, he pointed out.

Saying he would not deny that there are problems, he said “we owe it to patients to tell them what is good” in the health service.

Sinn Féin health spokeswoman Louise O’Reilly said the plan was long overdue.

“Not only is the HSE capital plan for 2019 nearly nine months late, but many of the projects announced with the plan have already been announced or are currently under way.

“We have had to wait three quarters of the year to see the plan due to the chronic overspending on the National Children’s Hospital, and there is a worrying lack of detail within the plan itself.

“The plan also does little to address the huge overcrowding in our hospitals.”

Labour Party health spokesman Alan Kelly said the plan was a “complete window dressing exercise.”

He added: “The delay in this plan being published shows the childrens’ hospital overspend is coming home to roost. There is little in this plan to tackle important issues such as the National Maternity Strategy and additional bed capactity for hospitals that see huge overcrowding.”

Half the budget for the plan is being spent on four projects: the new national children’s hospital, the National Rehabilitation Hospital, the National Forensice Mental Health facility at Portrane, and radiation oncology units in Cork, Dublin and Galway.

There are also plans to build three elective work-only hospitals in Dublin, Cork and Galway.

The plan, which covers the years 2019-2021, provides for 480 new hospital beds, 30 new primary care centres, 58 community nursing units, as well as additional mental health and disability projects.

Some €265 million is being provided over the three years to replace or refurbish nursing homes and residents for people with a disability.

The HSE’s ageing ambulance fleet is to benefit from an injection of €300 million for the maintenance and upgrading of facilities, equipment and vehicles.

Another €335 million is being provided for capital projects in hospitals and primary care facilities.