The Irish Times view on the National Maternity Hospital: Put women first and get on with it

The proposed move to the St Vincent’s campus has stalled in an eleventh hour stand-off over governance and control

Even by the sometimes Byzantine ways of Irish healthcare, the saga of the transfer of the National Maternity Hospital (NMH) from Holles Street to the St Vincent’s University Hospital (SVUH) campus, shown in the graphic above, has been complex.

Even by the sometimes Byzantine ways of Irish healthcare, the saga of the transfer of the National Maternity Hospital (NMH) from Holles Street to the St Vincent’s University Hospital (SVUH) campus, shown in the graphic above, has been complex.

 

Even by the sometimes Byzantine ways of Irish healthcare, the saga of the transfer of the National Maternity Hospital (NMH) from Holles Street to the St Vincent’s University Hospital (SVUH) campus has been complex. Mooted for years, the move was formally announced by then health minister James Reilly in May 2013 although no detail had been worked out. The project has had a tortuous passage since and is now stalled in an eleventh hour stand-off over governance and control of the new facility.

Among the many factors at play are the religious ethos at SVUH, the role of canon versus civil law, and the free availability of services such as tubal ligation, abortion and IVF. Guaranteed State ownership of the relocated hospital continues to occupy political and public discussion as the project is engulfed in the wider debate over the controversial role of religion in Irish healthcare.

Apparent disengagement by the Department of Health from a joint project group, following the initiation by Holles Street of a successful court challenge to a ministerial direction given to HIQA, was interpreted by many as borderline vindictive. Even before that, the intervention of mediator Kieran Mulvey was required to broker a written agreement guaranteeing the existing ethos of Holles Street. Despite a series of positive statements from key stakeholders over the past week, the project remains log-jammed.

The immediate hurdle is new EU building regulations that come into effect on January 1st and the need for the Department of Health to provide €22 million to allow preparatory construction to commence before that date. Failure to do so risks further delay and additional costs which could jeopardise the project at a time when the escalating bill for the new National Children’s Hospital is already causing alarm within Government.

All parties would do well to reflect on their positions from the perspective of women who have most to gain from the move. Holles Street patients are shoe-horned into an antiquated facility with real safety risks which would be ameliorated by the new facilities mapped out at SVUH.

The NMH at St Vincent’s would be physically interconnected with the acute hospital there, ending the unsatisfactory practice of having to transfer seriously ill patients from Holles Street for emergency care. These patients would benefit from a full range of specialists on site as well as a broad range of laboratories and radiology services. And greater space in a modern facility would reduce the risk of hospital acquired infection.

Addressing the issue in The Irish Times, former HSE director general Tony O’Brien said: “Rather than sink into a quagmire of politicking and moralising, it is time to focus on simply getting the job done.” Sensible advice that should be heeded by all concerned as they address the issues dividing them. They must get on with it.

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