Building a children’s hospital: A big space for little patients

Shaped like a rugby ball, the main building will have a Croke Park-sized Rainbow Garden

From the seventh floor there is a rare panoramic view of the capital city across the Custom House, the Phoenix Park and the Dublin Mountains in the distance.

This is not the vista from a new boutique hotel; it is from atop the concrete skeleton of what will become the National Children’s Hospital in Dublin.

Every child admitted as an inpatient will have their own room with a view, says Phelim Devine, project director with the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board (NPHDB).

“If you have a room on the outer side you get this panorama of Dublin; if you are on the inner section you will see the Rainbow Garden,” he says.

From a bird’s-eye perspective, the main building of the new children’s hospital is shaped like a rugby ball, with a Croke Park-sized Rainbow Garden running through its centre on the fourth floor. The rugby ball is framed by another, longer four-storey build, which is topped with more greenery and a helipad which will be shared with St James’s Hospital.

Although this is a place for little people, aged from infants up to 18, it is truly enormous. Beneath the Rainbow Garden is the central atrium where an internal street the length of Grafton Street runs . There will be more than 380 individual inpatient rooms, 93 day beds, 22 operating theatres and procedure rooms and 1,000 underground parking spaces reserved for family use. There are also 14 gardens and internal courtyards encompassing four acres, and a primary and secondary school so patients can continue with their education.

“Some of the kids will be in here for months and they need space to have some freedom and space to play,” Devine says.

Sofa bed

Each inpatient room will have a sofa bed for parents or guardians and an accessible ensuite toilet and shower room. These cubicles, which have been delivered fully formed, are currently wrapped in blue cellophane beside their respective rooms, many of which do not yet have walls.

Although Covid-19 did not exist during the design phase, single rooms were chosen to control the spread of infections, says medical director Dr Emma Curtis .

The building, which has come under close scrutiny due to its spiralling costs and lengthening construction phase, is about 35 per cent complete, according to a spokeswoman. Over 90 per cent of all concrete has been poured and the concrete shell of the building is now complete.

The project is 10 months behind schedule and continues to experience some delays due to Covid-19 construction closures.

Under the contract, the hospital was due to be completed by the end of 2022 and handed over to Children’s Health Ireland to open in 2023. It now looks as though the project will not be completed until 2023 with a further six- to nine-month handover period.

These delays will impact on costs, which were originally supposed to be €1.4 billion for the design, build and equipping. This figure also covered two new paediatric centres at Tallaght University Hospital and Connolly Hospital in Blanchardstown. The latest available figure is €1.7 billion, to include IT and electronic health development and the transfer of services of the three children’s hospitals to the new sites.

Ellen O'Riordan

Ellen O'Riordan

Ellen O'Riordan is an Irish Times reporter