Second chairman resigns from board of children's hospital

 

THE BOARD set up to oversee the development of the State’s new national children’s hospital suffered a major setback yesterday when it lost its second chairman in less than six months.

John Gallagher tendered his resignation yesterday saying he “no longer feels that he has the mandate to continue with his original remit to build the hospital at the Mater site”. Mr Gallagher’s decision comes in the wake of Minister for Health James Reilly publicly stating that he is considering whether a review is required of the decision to locate the hospital on the campus of Dublin’s Mater hospital.

The decision to locate the hospital at the Mater has been dogged by controversy and the first chairman of the paediatric hospital development board Philip Lynch was forced to resign last October after the then minister for health Mary Harney heard he was questioning the site’s suitability for the €650 million development.

Since then, Mr Lynch has expressed the view that the decision to locate the hospital at the Mater was a political one, something which the HSE and Ms Harney have denied.

Mr Lynch also raised questions about a gap in funding for the hospital. Some €110 million was to be found from philanthropy and fundraising.

Mr Gallagher, who succeeded Mr Lynch, said recently he had carried out a review of the decision to locate the hospital at the Mater since he took up his post as chairman of the hospital development board and concluded the site was suitable.

He sent a summary of his review and its recommendations to the Minister but did not share it with several members of the paediatric hospital development board.

Dr Reilly said last week, after he met Mr Gallagher to discuss the whole matter, that he still had not made up his mind about whether a broader review of the decision to locate the hospital at the Mater site was necessary. He said he had sought further information, which the Department of Health was gathering for him.

In a short statement, Mr Gallagher said that given his original remit was to build the hospital at the Mater site “and the risk of incurring further material ongoing costs in the project without full Government support”, he had decided to resign.

Some €29.3 million has already been spent on designing the hospital and planning permission for it was about to be submitted to An Board Pleanála. It is due to be built by 2015 but could be delayed.

Mr Gallagher added that he believed the children’s hospital project was one of the most critical projects for the State, and that in its current form, “has very strong merit both for Ireland’s children and for Ireland’s economy, and can be completed on the Mater site in a cost-effective manner”.

Dr Reilly said later he wanted to satisfy himself the State could afford what was proposed.

Mr Lynch claimed earlier this month it was costing about €250 million more than it would cost on “any normal site” to try and “shoehorn” the hospital into the Mater campus.

Dr Reilly stressed the programme for government contained a commitment to build the hospital. “I want to make sure that this happens in the most cost-effective way that is to the maximum benefit of patients. I intend to continue my consideration of all the facts before I decide what steps to take next. I am determined to have all the facts before I decide on the best approach,” he said. A review would be complete “in a number of months”. The resignation was “a bolt out of the blue”, he added.

The national paediatric hospital development board said it deeply regretted Mr Gallagher’s decision and hoped it would not delay the project. It remained committed to “a world-class national children’s hospital on the Mater campus”.