It’s not too late to move the national children’s hospital

Move to Connolly site in Dublin could save time and money and deliver better campus

“The expenditure to date on the site at St James’s Hospital has been about €80 million.” Photograph: Tom Honan

“The expenditure to date on the site at St James’s Hospital has been about €80 million.” Photograph: Tom Honan

 

The extraordinary projected cost of the new national children’s hospital is now in the region of €2 billion. Many fear it could be significantly higher.

The good news is that the outgoing director of the project, John Pollock, told an Oireachtas committee meeting recently that the actual expenditure to date on the site at St James’s Hospital has been about €80 million.

This is a relatively small amount of the projected total expenditure, although considerable extra sums have been spent on planning, public relations and a multiplicity of committees.

The new co-located Rotunda hospital, which is scheduled to move to the Connolly site, could also be built at the same time

It is now obvious to all that a catastrophic error has been made, not alone in the choice of the St James’s Hospital site but also in the procurement process. There is an alternative.

It is apparent from recent drone views of the site that the phase-one works are still far from complete. The existing site can readily be converted into an underground multistory car park to serve the existing adult hospital and allow for further expansion of appropriate services including the transfer of radiotherapy services from St Luke’s hospital which are currently stalled.

Greenfield site

The children’s hospital can be transferred to a greenfield site, the obvious site being Connolly hospital, where the State owns almost 150 acres of vacant land.

I previously suggested a much more cost-effective design for the Connolly site for the children’s hospital. It would be co-located with the Rotunda maternity hospital, which is already designated to move to this site.

Many throw their hands in the air in horror at the thought of the delay and problems of moving to a new site. But with a new approach to procurement, and a fast-track building and commissioning project, the hospital on this site could open well before the current build could be completed on the St James’s site.

The new co-located Rotunda hospital, which is scheduled to move to the Connolly site, could also be built at the same time.

I personally would be pleased to offer my services in the interest of children’s care to help in any capacity that is appropriate

The result would be a world-class digital hospital, overcoming the shortcomings of the St James’s site and saving hundreds of millions of euro of taxpayers’ money.

It would also prevent the cancellation of numerous other projects throughout the country.

The advantages of moving to the Connolly site include a reduction in construction costs of between 10 per cent and 25 per cent compared with a congested inner-city site. It would allow space for expansion, ground helicopter access, unlimited parking and better access for the entire country as it is off the M50. It would also facilitate the redesign of the facility in a more cost-effective manner with the majority of the bedrooms facing southwest. This is the ideal orientation for energy efficiency and natural ventilation.

Other benefits include elimination of aspergillosis precautions needed at St James’s, a holistic parkland environment and a significant improvement in the air quality compared with an inner-city location. There would be space for parent accommodation and no need for underground parking beneath the hospital, which is a fire-safety consideration. Recent fires in multistorey car parks have resulted in devastating consequences.

Savings

The redesign would also result in a significant annual saving in running costs, which over the lifetime of a hospital would be very considerable.

It is also recommended that modern hospitals for children ideally should not be higher than five stories. Low rise is a significant advantage in case of fire.

Finally, staffing would prove much more satisfactory at Connolly. With the current problems recruiting nurses and other highly-skilled staff this is a major consideration. A recent survey of staff in one of the existing children’s hospital suggested that 25 per cent of existing staff are unwilling to relocate to the St James’s site.

Assuming a rapid decision could be made, the hospital could open in 2022, which is at least a year before the current planned opening on the St James’s site with a saving of hundreds of millions of euro of taxpayers’ hard-earned money.

As the developer of Ireland’s only digital hospital – the Galway Clinic – I repeat my offer made at the Oireachtas committee meeting in 2016 that I personally would be pleased to offer my services in the interest of children’s care to help in any capacity that is appropriate to this project on a purely voluntary capacity with no vested interests whatsoever.

Let’s show the international community that we can build this children’s hospital in a few years, with maximum efficiency and minimal cost, rather than being labelled as the country which oversaw the construction of the world’s most expensive and compromised children’s hospital

James Sheehan is a retired orthopaedic surgeon and developer of the Blackrock, Galway and Hermitage clinics

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