New children's hospital will be first class, says health chief

The National Children’s Hospital will be a first-class facility where parents will no longer be forced to sleep on mattresses under the bed of their sick child, it was claimed today.

Construction on the new facility, which will merge the three children’s hospitals on Eccles Street, Dublin, could start as early as next year and is on target to admit its first patient in 2015.

Eilish Hardiman, chief executive of the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board, said funding for the €650m project in the grounds of the Mater Hospital was secure.

“This is something the children of Ireland actually deserve and in light of all the capital investments this actually gives great value for money,” said Ms Hardiman.

“One of the advantages of the recession is the fact the construction industry is very competitive.

“We will be going out to tender in to the market over the next few months and we anticipate we will be getting great value because of the circumstances we are in. The funding is secure.”

Developers said a milestone for the ambitious scheme was marked this week when plans were lodged with An Bord Pleanála.

Ms Hardiman said architects worked alongside 1,000 health workers, parents and children to design the facility.

It features 392 en-suite single rooms with beds for parents, up to 1,000 car parking spaces with free parking and accommodation to support the families of children in long term care.

“There are 200 parents sleeping on mattresses under their children’s bed tonight,” said Mr Hardiman.

“There is also going to be excellent facilities for parents to room in so they will not be sleeping on a thin mattress under their child’s bed which they do tonight in Dublin hospitals, there will actually be a bed for them to stay in.”

Existing children’s hospitals at Temple Street, Crumlin and Tallaght will be merged on the site, in Dublin’s north inner city.

However an Ambulatory and Urgent Care Centre will remain in Tallaght Hospital to provide paediatric emergency care, elective day care and outpatient services to children on the southside.

Ms Hardiman said while the overall cost had dropped by 100m euro due to construction costs, a further €110m still needed to be raised through philanthropy and fundraising.

She also rejected criticisms over the location of the city centre hospital site, maintaining health chiefs and Health Minister Mary Harney had continuously backed the decision.

“It’s been well demonstrated that for the sickest children, you get the best clinical outcomes if they’re in a centre where there is a critical mass of specialities and sub specialities,” Ms Hardiman added.

“You can have a really sick child in a children’s care unit and sometimes you have can have five or six clinical teams actually looking after it and at the moment some of those services are across different hospitals in Dublin.”

Meanwhile, Ms Hardiman said despite being an executive, she wasn’t aware why former chairman Philip Lynch resigned last week.

“Mr Lynch has given three years of his time, pro bono, to this project and was instrumental in getting it to this stage,” she said.

“But I want to say and acknowledge the contribution that he has made, it’s been quite significant.

“But we have a new chairman, we’re in to a new era, it’s a new phase for the project so John Gallagher has joined us and look forward to bring the project forward under his leadership as chairman.”

Jan O’Sullivan, Labour Party spokeswoman on health, was critical that the project – which was due to open by the end of 2014 – was now delayed until 2015.

“This is just the latest in a litany of missed deadlines, broken promises and disappointments surrounding this project,” she said.

“The entire project has been badly handled by the Health Minister and by the former and current Government.”

Ms Hardiman said the project was generally in the same timeframe as first announced, but added a change in legislation over the summer delayed it by a number of weeks which she hoped would be made up during construction.

Ms O’Sullivan asked how the shortfall in funding could be met from commercial sources during the current economic climate.

She also highlighted concerns raised by the late Maurice Neligan, who withdrew his support for the hospital at the Mater Hospital site before he died suddenly on Friday.

“A cloud of doubt now hangs over the plan which requires an independent and honest reappraisal,” she added.

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