Children’s hospital - Mater plan must be reconsidered

THE sudden resignation of Philip Lynch, the Government-appointed chairman of the board of the new national children’s hospital, has thrown into sharp focus the ongoing controversy surrounding the choice of the Mater Hospital in the heart of Dublin as its proposed location.

Anyone who has to negotiate the capital’s traffic snarl will know how daunting it is to drive through the city at any time of the day or night. The thought of having to face this nerve-wracking challenge with a seriously ill child in the car is absolutely terrifying.

How to get across the city quickly in a serious emergency is a dilemma likely to haunt every parent that has to undertake the journey — regardless of whether they are coming from Dun Laoghaire or Dingle. Obviously, people unfamiliar with Dublin will find the challenge even more arduous.

Visitors to the Mater campus find it so hard to get parking that multi-million euro underground facilities will have to be excavated. Visiting motorists can be sure the cost of parking there in future will go up.

Following Mr Lynch’s departure there has been such a clamour for a visibly independent reassessment of the project that Health Minister Mary Harney should be in no doubt as to the level of public anxiety that continues to surround the Mater site.

Unsurprisingly, there have been calls from the New Children’s Hospital Alliance, a group representing both parents and members of the medical profession, for other board members to consider their positions.

Despite Ms Harney’s denials, there is an unshakeable perception in the popular mind that the contentious decision to locate the hospital on the already congested Mater campus was motivated more by political than medical considerations. In pressing ahead with its plans in the face of widespread opposition, the Government has been openly accused of putting the lives of children at risk.

When the concept of a single national children’s hospital was first mooted, the state was offered a far less costly and much more accessible site on the outskirts of the city. This was rejected on the grounds that the unit should ideally operate in co-location with an adult hospital and a maternity hospital, thus leading to the choice of the Mater campus.

In those days the country was awash with money and the building boom in full swing. Today the Exchequer coffers are empty and Ireland Inc is staring bankruptcy in the face. With the project carrying a price tag of €650 million, over €400m must come from the pockets of beleaguered taxpayers. Where the balance will be raised is unclear.

Taxpayers are already being asked to bail out the country’s banks to the tune of anything up to €50 billion. So inured are we to talking in terms of ‘billions’, we are in danger of forgetting that €50bn is a staggering €50,000,000,000.

Given the current economic climate, there are compelling arguments why the Government should be prepared to revisit all the issues surrounding its highly controversial decision to locate the national children’s hospital on the Mater campus.


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