Building national hospital for children in nine steps


OPINION:AS A concerned citizen, I have been appalled by the handling of the project for a new National Children’s Hospital. Having instigated, planned, developed, and commissioned three hospitals in the country in the past 30 years, ie Blackrock, Galway and Hermitage clinics, I have gained some experience in this area.

All three hospitals were built within 18 months and within budget. Because of my interest and expertise in hospital development, I was invited to join the board of Crumlin hospital in 2004 to help with the design and planning of a new facility in Crumlin.

After two years on the board and after much deliberation, I concluded that Ireland required one new paediatric hospital to serve the entire country, both North and South.

Not alone would this hospital serve the nation but it would be a wonderful expression of unity for our next generation by bringing both North and South together for paediatric care.A single hospital would be optimally utilised, serving a population of approximately five million by international standards.

I visited numerous children’s hospitals abroad to formulate my ideas.All co-located hospitals that I visited appeared to be a compromise and I concluded that the first essential was unlimited scope on a green-field site.

This permits the option to add a maternity hospital and indeed adult speciality areas to serve the needs of the maturing children for conditions such as cystic fibrosis, orthopaedic and cardiac disorders as indicated.

I discussed the situation with the then minister for health, Mary Harney; the then chairman of Crumlin hospital, Cardinal Connell and his successor, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin; and the board of Crumlin hospital.

I arranged conceptual plans for a new hospital on a greenfield site adjacent to the M50 as this hospital has to serve the nation, not just citizens of the inner city.

A proposal was submitted in March 2005 to all relevant parties, and I pledged that I would voluntarily undertake to develop the facility and have it fully commissioned by April 1st, 2008.

My proposal was never seriously considered and the political process took over with all the vested interests having a voice, leading to our current sorry state of turmoil and indecision.

The present design appears admirable but it is totally unsuitable on the Mater site. It could be a magnificent structure situated in a parkland setting with adequate space for adjacent and complementary developments.

It could be built and commissioned in a two-year period and, once again I offer my expertise on a voluntary basis to achieve this outcome. This offer of help is subject to no political interference, vested interest groups or committees.

Why can we not show the Irish nation that it can be done, and give some glimmer of hope to a battered country?

Over the three hospital projects in which I have been involved, I have realised that to achieve the end point, nine basic principles have to be adhered to uncompromisingly:

1Freeze all plans prior to construction;

2Specify all major equipment prior to commencing construction;

3Minimise construction and commissioning to a maximum of two years and preferably one year;

4Purchase all essential fixtures and fittings in advance and store them in an adjacent warehouse to obviate delays in construction;

5Include all fixed fittings in the contract so that subsequent construction is eliminated;

6Fix the construction contract price with a no-variation clause;

7Prohibit any alterations that are deemed necessary until the contract is completed and the building handed over;

8Hold weekly meetings of the design team with only the principals involved, so that instant decisions can be made as construction progresses;

9Fix all design team fees at the onset.

In relation to the €36 million already spent on planning, where did this go?

Please can we have a breakdown as this seems unbelievable. Was most of it spent on ink cartridges?

Once again, I reiterate my commitment to undertake and deliver this hospital in a totally transparent and accountable fashion, provided I am allowed to do it largely on my own with a design team committed to the above mentioned principles.

My only other requirement is a pledge from Government that the money is available and not on the never-never, as normally happens, to prevent the project being drawn out for an indefinite period.

I would be privileged to deliver a new children’s hospital to the nation on time, and on budget.

My only vested interest is ensuring a centre of excellence for our children and grandchildren for the years to come.

James Sheehan, FRCSI, PhD, CEng. Hon, FIEI FIAE, is the developer behind the Blackrock, Galway and Hermitage clinics