Cabinet to meet over children’s hospital

The Cabinet is to meet to discuss the National Children’s Hospital debacle tomorrow amid growing opposition to downsizing the facility and increasing evidence of the crisis within existing paediatric services.

It emerged at the weekend that the heads of three medical schools have added their voices to fears that important features of the hospital could be sacrificed to make it fit the Mater site.

Professor Hannah McGee of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, Professor Dermot Kelleher of Trinity College, and Professor Bill Powderly of UCD reportedly called on Dr James Reilly, the minister for health, not to make the hospital smaller to try to appease An Bord Pleanála.

The planning body two weeks ago refused permission for the hospital on land at the Mater Hospital in Dublin on the grounds that the 16-storey structure would ruin the city skyline and constituted overdevelopment on a crowded site.

Dr Reilly reacted by saying that a redesigned hospital with some of the “grandiose” elements removed was a possibility, rather than relocating to another site. He cited laboratories and education facilities as features that could be scaled back.

However, the three medical school heads were reported to have written to him to express alarm at such a proposal, warning that research and education were critical to the development of a world-class hospital.

Their intervention follows that of the Faculty of Paediatrics at the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland, which has also warned against any “cut to fit” policy.

The urgency of getting progress on the project is highlighted in a new fundraising campaign by Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital, Crumlin, one of the three hospitals meant to be replaced by the new facility.

In newspaper, billboard and radio advertisements appearing today, it appeals for help to raise €8m needed to upgrade cancer and cardiac facilities at the ageing, overcrowded hospital.

The “Sick Children Can’t Wait” campaign is fronted by Dr Orla Franklin, consultant paediatric cardiologist, who said children deserved to be cared for in quality facilities.

“Every year Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital treats 130,000 children. We carry out 550 open-heart surgeries. Children are fighting aggressive cancers. These tough life struggles are happening in cramped and out-of-date facilities. This has to change.”

A revamp of the cancer ward in which critically and terminally ill children have to share rooms, is at the tendering stage, while work on the cardiac ward is at planning stage but the hospital says it could complete both in a year with funding.

The work will proceedregardless of what happens with the new national facility. “Children are sick right now. Their illnesses ignore time and circumstances,” said Dr Franklin.

A spokesman for Dr Reilly, who announced the setting up of an expert group to review the new hospital plans, said Cabinet intended considering the terms of reference for the review tomorrow and announcing membership of the group by the end of the week.

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