Mater hospital project faces new delay


The redevelopment of the Mater hospital site in Dublin - the most expensive healthcare project in the history of the State - has been delayed again.

Approval for the €500 million project, which will also involve the provision of a new children's hospital to replace Temple Street, will have to await a forthcoming review of the strategic organisation of specialist paediatric services nationwide.

The Health Service Executive (HSE) recently advertised for consultants to advise on whether all tertiary or high-level specialist care for children should be based at one or more hospitals and on what facilities would be required in such circumstances.

This report is due to be completed within weeks. However, there are fears that approval for the Mater/Temple Street development may then have to await a second external consultancy on where any such tertiary or specialist services should be located. The issue of location is not included in the terms of reference of the current contract.

Senior medical consultants at Temple Street have now invited all politicians on Dublin's north side, including Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, in whose constituency the two hospitals are based, to a public meeting on January 17th to discuss the future of the project. Last October Mr Ahern publicly said the development would go ahead.

The project will see the provision of a new accident and emergency department and outpatient unit at the Mater as well as new radiology facilities and a helipad. The current Temple Street hospital will be converted into a step-down facility and a new day hospital will be developed in the old Mater building. Around 100 additional beds will be provided.

The project, which received Government approval five years ago and which has full planning permission, had been scheduled to go to tender last autumn with a view to having construction under way by February or March.

However, that timescale was initially delayed as a result of an intervention by the Department of Finance earlier this year.

The department insisted the Mater/Temple Street development could not go to tender without its specific approval. It was concerned at the ongoing running costs of the new facility, including the requirement for additional staff. A confidential financial assessment of the project given to the HSE some months ago said the new Mater/Temple Street complex would cost around €10 million more to run each year than the current budgets for the two hospitals.

A spokesman for the HSE declined to comment on when it would recommend approval for the project to go to tender. Such a recommendation would also have to be ratified by the Departments of Health and Finance.

The HSE last week declined to release the terms of reference for the new review of tertiary services. The Irish Times understands these state that the current infrastructure at Temple Street and Our Lady's hospital in Crumlin does not meet current standards for a paediatric hospital facility.

The HSE has asked consultants to identify whether tertiary paediatric services should in future be provided at one or more locations and assess what facilities are required.