National Maternity Hospital doctors fear ‘misinformation’ could delay move

Taoiseach retains concerns around governance and possible religious influence in facility

The proposed new National Maternity Hospital would be developed on a site at St Vincent’s hospital in Elm Park, Dublin.

The proposed new National Maternity Hospital would be developed on a site at St Vincent’s hospital in Elm Park, Dublin.

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A group of 42 senior clinicians at the National Maternity Hospital (NMH) has expressed concern that “misinformation” and “misunderstanding” around the planned relocation of the hospital could delay the move.

In a letter, published in today’s Irish Times, the consultants say that all procedures will be available should the hospital move from Holles Street to a site on the St Vincent’s campus at Elm Park, including terminations and tubal ligation and transgender and assisted reproduction services.

“We, the consultants of the National Maternity Hospital, are concerned by the potential for misinformation and misunderstanding to delay a vital project to create a world-class maternity hospital for the women and babies of Ireland,” says the letter, co-signed by clinicians including the NMH’s current master, Shane Higgins, and three former masters.

‘Troubling’

“The misinformation that services at the new maternity hospital will be curtailed by any religious ethos is particularly troubling given its inaccuracy.”

The project has been mired in political controversy after the Government admitted there were a number of problems in proceeding with the relocation, primarily around governance and ownership.

The State, which is expected to invest some €800 million in the project, wants to buy the land that the hospital will be built on, but the St Vincent’s Healthcare Group (SVHG) has said it must retain ownership of the site.

The Religious Sisters of Charity own the land, which they intend to transfer to a new entity, St Vincent’s Holdings. It has proposed a 99-year lease and then a 50-year extension.

A rally held outside Leinster House at the weekend heard of concerns that access to all reproductive healthcare might not be provided at the new hospital because of potential religious influence over its operation.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin yesterday said he still had concerns around governance arrangements for the proposed hospital and that there could be no semblance or even perception of religious influence in it.

‘Cast-iron guarantee’

The clinicians write that they “could not countenance any restriction on our practice based on religion. A cast-iron guarantee in this regard is included in the proposed operating licence to be granted by the Department of Health for the new hospital, and we would not allow the project to proceed without this in place”.

Mr Martin told RTÉ’s The Week in Politics that talks will be held soon with the boards of SVHG and the NMH. He said he believed “the public interest has to be represented more on the board” of the new hospital given “the taxpayer is paying for this”.

The board would consist of four directors nominated by both SVHG and the NMH and one nominated by the minister for health. The minister would also have a “golden share” to protect the public interest.

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