First phase of children's hospital 'may not open on schedule'

Harris due to apologise for not providing fuller information about cost escalation

Minister for Health Simon Harris is due to apologise for not providing fuller information about the cost escalation at the national children’s hospital when he was asked about it last September.  File photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Minister for Health Simon Harris is due to apologise for not providing fuller information about the cost escalation at the national children’s hospital when he was asked about it last September. File photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

 

The first phase of the new national children’s hospital, a satellite unit in Blanchardstown, will not be able to open as scheduled this summer due to a shortage of specialist medical staff, doctors have warned.

Meanwhile, the Minister for Health Simon Harris is due to apologise for not providing fuller information about the cost escalation at the children’s hospital when asked last September. He is not expected to concede that he misled the Dáil.

The country was last night still facing three days of consecutive strikes by more than 40,000 nurses this week, which will bring large parts of the health service to a standstill.

After three days of talks with the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO), the Psychiatric Nurses Association (PNA) and public service management, the Labour Court had not – as of last night – found the positions of the parties to be sufficiently close to warrant formal intervention.

The first of two satellite centres to the new national children’s hospital at Connolly Hospital in Blanchardstown is scheduled to commence operations in July.

Recruitment difficulties

However, the Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA) said yesterday this may now not be possible as insufficient numbers of required medical staff have been recruited. The Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) also warned that recruitment could delay the opening.

IHCA vice-president and consultant rheumatologist Laura Durcan said the planned opening of the paediatric urgent care centre in Connolly was “in jeopardy due to the failure to recruit the consultants needed to operate it”.

 

“It has been completed at significant cost and to date there have been failures to recruit paediatric emergency and radiology consultants. Two posts in radiology failed to fill in recent months because there were no eligible applicants,” she said.

“These posts have been re-advertised but the prospects are not good. In addition four paediatric emergency posts have been advertised and an insufficient number of applicants received.”

She said the root cause of the problem in recruiting sufficient medical specialists was the Government’s failure to end what she described as pay discrimination against consultants appointed after 2012.

Discrimination cases

Dr Durcan said 300 recent entrants who were members of the IHCA were taking discrimination cases against their employers in the health service. She said over 70 per cent of these had confirmed they would leave their public hospital posts if pay parity was not restored.

The president of the IMO and emergency medicine specialist Dr Peadar Gilligan said, given the very significant problems with recruitment of consultants, it was difficult to see how the satellite centre in Connolly would have sufficient paediatric emergency medicine consultant staffing to be in a position to open in July.

Documents from the children’s hospital steering group show there were warnings as early as May of 2017 that the posts would be difficult to fill. There was also deemed to be a “critical risk as the opening of the satellite centres depends on this recruitment” in an October 2017 meeting.

However, a spokeswoman for Children’s Health Ireland said recruitment was “at an advanced stage”.

She said as of the end of 2018, the total medical workforce for the group – which comprises the three existing paediatric hospitals – was 468 whole time equivalent staff and that additional consultant and non-consultant posts are being filled “on an incremental basis over several years”.

In 2018, funding was approved for 20 new service posts including specialities such as orthopaedics, all-island cardiology and anaesthesia.