Subscriber OnlyPolitics

Harris faces further questions on Children’s Hospital costs

Inside Politics: Records of steering group meetings show growing disquiet over increasing figures

Good morning,

Ten months ago, Minister for Health Simon Harris faced one of the biggest crises of his ministerial career when, thanks to the courage of Vicky Phelan, details of the CervicalCheck scandal emerged.

This morning, he will face renewed questions on what is arguably the second-biggest controversy of his career: the escalation of costs at the National Children’s Hospital.

These are the facts. In 2017, the Government approved a construction budget of €983 million for the project. By November of last year, the total cost of the project had increased by €450 million. The total cost is now estimated at €1.7 billion, and health officials can’t give a concrete assurance the final bill won’t top €2 billion.


By any measure, it is a staggering increase that will unfortunately knock other capital projects onto the back burner.

There has been much hand-wringing in recent weeks about who knew what and when, and who should be held accountable and responsible.

This morning's lead has new details around what was happening behind the scenes.

The minutes of the Children’s Hospital Programme and Project Steering Group show senior officials in the Department of Health and the HSE were privy to discussions around a potential increase in capital costs going back to 2017.

The HSE has asked PWC to investigate how the escalation happened, but these board minutes show a growing disquiet over the changing figures.

For example, minutes from the April 2018 meeting show the estimates for the construction costs were being disputed, and an independent expert would have to be brought in to make a judgement.

The notes show John Pollock, the project director of the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board, “flagged pricing discrepancies between NPH quantity surveyors and BAM/M&E contractors”.

He flagged that the “pricing discrepancies cannot be agreed”.

Officials were worried about getting value for money, but they were also worried about the project being finished in time, the notes show.

Why does all of this matter? It matters because it is the Government’s case that the project is too far gone now to turn back, that we are at the point of no return.

Exactly when we reached that point matters - especially when it is the taxpayer on the hook, and the patient who suffers when their local capital health project does not materialise when it should have done.

CervicalCheck controversy also in Minister’s diary

As if Simon Harris did not have enough on his plate, he will take questions in the health committee – about the National Children’s Hospital, nurses’ pay and even the provision of abortion services – and then go back into the Dáil for statements on the CervicalCheck controversy.

Opposition politicians are likely to have questions about the Government decision to offer a free repeat smear to women who were concerned last year. This unleashed a massive surge in visits to clinics, which were unable to cope.

It is expected politicians will seek to find out once again today whether Mr Harris went against official advice in announcing the out-of-cycle free repeat smear.

This renewed focus will come despite the fact the Minister said yesterday that he “followed the advice of my officials, including the chief medical officer, in providing this important reassurance to women”.

It is also likely TDs will seek a concrete timeline for the clearing of the 80,000 or so tests that are sitting in the backlog.

Some sources have indicated it could take up to a year to clear the backlog because of a global shortage of cytology experts, given the shift towards HPV testing.

The Government has yet to commit to a dedicated timeline, and it may come under pressure to do so today.

Best Reads

Here's Miriam Lord on the rootin', tootin', troubleshootin' Kieran Mulvey and how this Government knows the value of everything but the cost of nothing.

An alarming report by Paul Cullen is here about how large numbers of patients are dying unnecessarily because of delays in setting up a co-ordinated system for treating trauma patients.

The Brexit bus rumbles on as the Government rejects a fresh appeal from Theresa May to reopen the withdrawal agreement.

The Health Service Executive spent nearly €19,000 over 14 months to rent a seven-year-old vehicle when a similar one would have cost between €5,000 and €10,000 to buy, reports Elaine Edwards.

Carl O'Brien has the latest in the landmark ruling in favour of a Leaving Cert student whose points were incorrectly added up.



Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed will take questions on his brief at 10:30am.

Leader’s Questions will be taken at noon.

The Taoiseach will take questions at 1:02pm.

Topical Questions will be taken at 2:47pm.

Labour will table a Private Members’ motion on its plans for a “fair start for every child” at 3:35pm.

Statements on the CervicalCheck controversy will be made at 5:35pm.

The Dáil adjourns at 10:15pm.


Commencement matters will be taken at 10:30am.

The Social Democrats’ Parental Leave Bill will be discussed at 12:45pm. This Bill seeks to extend unpaid parental leave to 26 weeks.

At 4:30pm, there will be statements on the most recent interim report of the Commission of the Mother and Baby Homes.


Simon Harris will appear before the Oireachtas Health Committee at 9am for a quarterly update on health issues.

The Transport Committee meets at 1:30pm to discuss Brexit planning and the provisions of an omnibus Brexit Bill that will seek to ensure aircraft can still fly in the event of a no-deal Brexit and that trains and buses can still travel cross-Border.