Watchdog to examine spending on new National Maternity Hospital

Special report may be carried out after audit is completed later this year, C&AG says

The State’s financial watchdog is to examine spending on the new National Maternity Hospital

The State’s financial watchdog is to examine spending on the new National Maternity Hospital

 

The State’s financial watchdog is to examine spending on the new National Maternity Hospital (NMH) project, it has emerged.

The Comptroller and Auditor General, Seamus McCarthy, has said that spending on the project would be examined as part of a forthcoming audit. This will be completed towards the end of the year and if issues arise, a special report may then be carried out if needed, he said.

Mr McCarthy outlined the plans in a letter to Social Democrats co-leader Róisín Shortall. He said that audits would be conducted on a sample of capital expenditure projects and “it is intended to examine the spending on this project as part of the audit”.

Ms Shortall had written to him expressing “serious concerns” about the use of public money. The hospital is due to relocate from Holles Street to the St Vincent’s campus but there has been significant political controversy over the plans in recent months.

The Government has expressed dissatisfaction that the State won’t own the land on which it will be built, while campaigners have raised fears about any potential religious influence or ethos. The Religious Sisters of Charity own the site, which they plan to transfer to a new entity. That entity will lease the land to the State.

In her letter to Mr McCarthy, Ms Shortall outlined three key issues, the first of which centred on money already spent by Government on the St Vincent’s hospital site.

“In December 2018, the then Government undertook expenditure of an estimated €20 million on a new pharmacy, car park and enabling works at Elm Park, in preparation for the proposed move of the NMH to that campus.

“In the intervening period, this initial expenditure has now risen to in excess of €51 million, without obvious further formal approvals, without clarity about the ownership of the site upon which these building works are taking place and notably, without clarity regarding whether the larger hospital project will proceed or not.”

Energy upgrade

Ms Shortall also said no business case has yet been submitted to Government despite public spending requirements to do so for large capital projects. She also told Mr McCarthy that because of a new European directive, a “deep energy upgrade to the building is likely to be required”.

“This will add substantially to the cost of the new building. This hospital was estimated in 2018 to cost €300 million, the latest departmental estimate is €800 million for build and fit-out, excluding the energy upgrade.”

Speaking to The Irish Times, Ms Shortall said it was “extraordinary that €51 million has already been spent on this project – before any final decision that it will proceed at the Elm Park site and in the absence of any business case for such an enormous financial spend.

“We have seen, with the children’s hospital, what happens when budgets for capital projects spiral out of control. We cannot allow the same financial chaos engulf the new maternity hospital.

“This is public money and the highest standards of rigorous financial planning and oversight must apply to every penny that is spent.”

The project has been mired in political controversy.Talks between the Department of Health and the St Vincent’s Healthcare Group are believed to be ongoing but the Opposition has maintained that the State must own the land in order for full independence to be guaranteed.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has acknowledged “issues around governance”, and said governance structures needed to be designed to protect the public interest.