Maternity hospital deal may require clarification of ‘clinically appropriate’

Cabinet approval for deal could be granted conditionally on Tuesday, senior source says

Government approval for the new National Maternity Hospital (NMH) may stipulate that the contentious phrase "clinically appropriate" be further defined or even deleted from the agreement underpinning its move to the St Vincent's campus.

A senior source said on Sunday that such an approach would not prevent the Cabinet from approving the move when it meets on Tuesday, with tendering and final sign-off for the business case for the hospital still outstanding.

A Fine Gael source indicated approval could be granted on a conditional basis, saying: "That's an option." However, that view was not universal across Government, with a Department of Health source indicating they were "not aware of any proposed changes" on that front.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said the Government intended to sign off on the plans this week.

“I think there’s been good debate and there’s been a lot of clarity on the legal documents that were published. They give very clear legal guarantees in terms of the ownership,” he said, adding that there were “many, many guarantees” in place.

St Vincent's Healthcare Group (SVHG) officials will on Monday appear before the Oireachtas health committee in relation to the move.

Clinicians working in the hospital have again indicated that they would be open to any changes in wording that were deemed politically necessary, so long as they felt their clinical independence was safeguarded.

Dr Jenny Walsh, a consultant obstetrician at the NMH, told RTÉ that medics were not "wedded" to the phrase.

“My preference is that our ability to provide that care is protected. I believe that is protected with [the current] phrase, but if there’s a phrase the Government . . . decide is more appropriate then NMH have been very clear that we are willing to come to the table on that, and absolutely have it removed, have it replaced.”

Fine Gael TD for Dublin Rathdown Neale Richmond said defining the phrase "clinically appropriate", which has been strongly objected to in some quarters, would be "useful".

“Having something written down would certainly help a lot of people outside the political spectrum, just to reassure them,” he said.

Controversy

There has been controversy over the proposed move, the ownership of the land where the hospital will be built and the language contained in legal agreements underpinning the relocation of the hospital – which all parties agree is needed to ensure high-quality care is provided for women and babies.

Hundreds of people attended a rally on Saturday demanding full public ownership of the hospital, raising concerns about possible external interference in its operation under the agreement despite reassurances from the current master, the Government and SVHG.

The move was described at the rally by former NMH master Peter Boylan as "folly of the greatest height".

Lingering doubts remain over backing for the proposal among some Green Party members. Dublin Central TD Neasa Hourigan said she was still considering her position on a Sinn Féin motion demanding the hospital be put on public land, while sources in the party said some in its membership remained unhappy with the proposal.

After Green Party deputy leader Catherine Martin endorsed the move following assurances given last week, Ms Hourigan is understood to have raised concerns in discussions with colleagues that the nature of the assurances did not fundamentally change the issues raised and had previously been given publicly.