Ministers won’t delay projects to pay for national children’s hospital
Cabinet to review capital budgets in Government departments as hospital costs rise
Minister for Health Simon Harris told the group developing the new hospital it must make every effort to mitigate the increased cost. Photograph: Aidan Crawley
Ministers will on Tuesday discuss the rapidly escalating costs of the new national children’s hospital project, amid suggestions that other capital projects could have to be delayed or shelved to pay for the new hospital.
Sources suggested on Monday that Ministers may review capital budgets in other departments because of the rising hospital costs, and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar admitted the cost of the flagship project is “way beyond what we had ever anticipated” and is likely to lead to delays in other capital projects.
But Cabinet Ministers will fiercely resist attempts to delay building projects in their departments to pay for the project.
A number of Ministers have confirmed that they will resist any such proposal at today’s Cabinet meeting, which will be briefed by Minister for Health Simon Harris on rising costs at the project.
Last week, The Irish Times reported that the projected cost of the new hospital had risen from between €1 billion and €1.1 billion last year to €1.4 billion, and sources said any decision to defer developments to allow for the children’s hospital to proceed as planned will not be confined to the health service.
But several Ministers were adamant they would not agree to their capital budgets being cut to pay for the hospital.
One Minister said that they had not been asked yet, but said that there would be strong opposition to the idea.
Another said that the idea was out of the question. “I can tell you that won’t be happening in my department. Not a chance,” the Minister said.
The Minister went on to say that there was increasing annoyance around the Cabinet table at attempts by the Department of Health and the HSE to seize any additional resources while their budgets were kept tight.
Another Minister said that the proposal “didn’t stand a chance” of being agreed by the Cabinet.
Construction of the hospital at St James’s Hospital has already begun and abandoning the project, which has been bedevilled by delays and controversy for almost 20 years, is not seen as a realistic option.
The cost of installing a sprinkler system, on foot of a decision by An Bord Pleanála last year, is being cited as one reason for the huge increase in the projected cost of the hospital.
Mr Harris is also expected to tell Cabinet that construction inflation and VAT for additional costs have further added to costs.
No fixed prices were agreed for the main engineering and construction tenders for the project, so subsequent reviews have resulted in the price of tenders being increased.
Mr Harris has held talks with the Department of the Taoiseach and the Department of Public Expenditure about the escalating cost for the new hospital, as well as its implications.
The national children’s hospital is the most complex and important public capital project that this country has ever embarked on
Mr Harris is understood to have told the group developing the new hospital it must make every effort to mitigate the increased cost.
However, it is understood that this will not include any cuts to the size of the hospital or its bed capacity.
A spokeswoman for Mr Harris said: “The national children’s hospital is the most complex and important public capital project that this country has ever embarked on.
“Three hospitals will be integrated into one hospital. After decades of debate, the project is under way. The Minister will brief his Cabinet colleagues on the cost of the hospital tomorrow.”
Mr Harris will also confirm on Tuesday that he intends to grant approval for initial works, including a car park and pharmacy, to take place at the new National Maternity Hospital site at St Vincent’s Hospital in Dublin 4 in time for a December 31st deadline. The hospital says that works must commence by that date or new European regulations will kick in, necessitating a redesign and throwing the future of the project into doubt.
Mr Harris required assurance that the Sisters of Charity would have no role in the new hospital, that a public interest director be nominated to the board and that the State should be guaranteed ownership of the new building (though not the land). It is understood he has received assurances on all issues.