Harris defends rise to €1.4bn in cost of new children’s hospital

Spending increase necessary to deliver state-of-the-art facility, Minister says

 Minister for Health Simon Harris said the new National Children’s Hospital would “give every child in this country access to world-class healthcare”.

Minister for Health Simon Harris said the new National Children’s Hospital would “give every child in this country access to world-class healthcare”.

 

The Government made a conscious decision to increase spending on the new national children’s hospital in order to deliver a “state-of-the-art facility”, Minister for Health Simon Harris has said.

He denied on Friday that spending on the planned new hospital was “out of control” after The Irish Times revealed that the projected cost was now about €1.4 billion.

“I will make no apology for extending our children’s care,” said the Minister, who is to bring a memo to the Cabinet on Tuesday on the escalating costs of the hospital. “Every single cent of this investment will be money well spent on children’s healthcare, and money that should have been spent decades ago. It will give every child in this country access to world-class healthcare.”

He said he had every confidence in the “hugely competent” people who were working on the project.

However, the Opposition strongly criticised the Minister over the spiralling cost of the hospital.

Labour health spokesman Alan Kelly he wanted the Dáil Public Accounts Committee to examine the issue.

“It is unbelievable that in the space of two years the projected cost of delivering the national children’s hospital has more than doubled from €650 million in 2016 to a projected €1.4 billion now.

Fianna Fáil health spokesman Stephen Donnelly said the Government needed to explain the surge in the cost estimates for the project.

“It’s just over 18 months since the Minister for Health told us that he expected the cost of the hospital to be approximately €1 billion and perhaps more importantly, that it would be delivered on time. We now know that neither will happen,” he said in a statement.

“These escalations are simply extraordinary and need to be explained. A 40 per cent increase in costs since spring 2017 cannot be brushed aside. We need to know that the taxpayers and ultimately the service users are getting the best value for their money.

“We also need to hear why delivery dates on key projects are not being met. It is not just the St James’s site which has been delayed. The Minister has said, on the Dáil record, that satellite centres at Connolly hospital would be open at the end of 2018 and Tallaght at the beginning of 2019. Neither of these projects are on schedule either. Connolly hospital is set to open next year with Tallaght to follow in 2020.”

Maternity hospital

Mr Kelly maintained that the failure of the Minister to keep control of costs on the national children’s hospital meant that the planned development of the new national maternity hospital at St Vincent’s hospital in Dublin 4 may be at risk.

He said there were also concerns that smaller capital projects in health facilities such as the provision of X-ray facilities and other diagnostics, important IT updates, additional step-down beds and primary care centres would be delayed and shelved.

The Irish Times has reported previously that Mr Harris wrote to Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe last May warning that the Government’s €10.9 billion capital plan for the health service was “not balanced” and that the larger-scale funding was earmarked towards the end.

He said that in the next three years the overwhelming majority of the capital funding available would be absorbed by contractual commitments on larger projects such as the national children’s hospital, the new national maternity hospital, radiation oncology facilities in Cork and Galway and a mental health campus in Portrane in north Dublin.

He said this left “little or no scope to undertake essential investment in diagnostic and medical equipment or to commence planning and design of future projects including bed capacity and other projects”.