Deal to move NMH will go to Cabinet unchanged, says Taoiseach

Agreement unchanged after intense debate over ownership and ethos of new hospital

The deal for moving the National Maternity Hospital (NMH) to the St Vincent's Hospital, Dublin 4, campus is set to be approved by Cabinet on Tuesday.

The agreement is unchanged following a fortnight of intense debate over the ownership and ethos of the new hospital.

The plans to move the NMH from Holles Street to the Elm Park campus were brought before Cabinet by Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly two weeks ago but a decision was deferred amid concern from some Fine Gael and Green Ministers at the proposals.

After scrutiny and reassurances on the deal over the last fortnight these concerns are said to be allayed and Cabinet is expected to sign off on the plan.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin confirmed that the deal to move the NMH will go to Cabinet unchanged. He reiterated assurances that “all lawful services will be provided by the new hospital”.

In April, the Religious Sisters of Charity transferred its shareholding in St Vincent's Healthcare Group (SVHG) to another entity, St Vincent's Holdings, which will lease the land on which it is proposed to building the new NMH for 299 years.

There are fears in some quarters that potential lingering religious influence could mean abortions or fertility treatment would not be allowed to take place at the new hospital. Questions have also been raised about why the land is not being sold or gifted to the State.

Such concerns have been dismissed by the Government and the hospital’s supporters in the medical community.

There had been suggestions in recent days that a codicil or addendum could be added to the agreement to clarify wording related to “clinically appropriate” services in the agreement for the new NMH.

Backbenchers in Fine Gael and Neasa Hourigan of the Green Party were seeking such clarifications. Critics of the NMH move have raised concern at the phrase being included in the agreement amid fears it potentially dilutes the range of services that will be available at the hospital.

However, there will be no codicil or addendum added to the agreement going before Cabinet on Tuesday.

The Irish Times understands that Cabinet Ministers will be told that “clinically appropriate” merely means that the full range of legally permissible procedures in the areas of maternity care and gynaecology should take place at the new NMH, rather than services provided in other kinds of hospitals like cardiac or orthopaedic surgery.

Ministers are also expected to hear that Mr Donnelly will ask the clinical director of the National Women and Infants Health Programme, Dr Cliona Murphy, to bring forward proposals on the establishment of a new Centre of Excellence for Women's Health.

Separately, SVHG chairman James Menton gave an explanation to the Oireachtas Health Committee on why it does not want to part with the land at its Elm Park campus.

He argued that having two landowners and two separate hospitals on the campus would “present significant risks to patient care”.

Mr Menton also told the committee that the April 2022 transfer of the nuns’ shareholding to another entity “was the last formal step in reaching the board’s objective of becoming a truly secular organisation free of any religious influence”.

On Monday, Ms Hourigan called on the Government to “pause” the decision. She told The Irish Times she is still considering whether or not to back a Sinn Féin motion pushing for the hospital be built on public land that is due to be debated in the Dáil on Tuesday.

SVHG has provided assurances to Ministers that procedures like terminations and voluntary sterilisations will take place at the new NMH.

One of the chief opponents of the move, former master of Holles Street Hospital Dr Peter Boylan, argued that that the words used in the assurance provided by SVHG are "ambiguous". He also said side letters like the one sent to the Government by SVHG "have no legal standing if the procedures are not explicitly written into the legal documents".