The disputes and delays that have dogged the development of a new National Maternity Hospital (NMH) appear at an end after the health minister cleared the way for the process to proceed.
In approving the contract for the first phase development — a pharmacy and carpark — at the St Vincent’s University Hospital campus in Dublin, Simon Harris said he was “fully confident” the new hospital will be free from the religious influence [of the Sisters of Charity], whose potential involvement had been the subject of heated public debate, including protest marches.
Mr Harris said the overall legal framework governing the development “will, unequivocally, copper-fasten the principle that patient care in the new hospital will be delivered without religious, ethnic or other distinction, and that any relevant medical procedure, which is in accordance with the laws of the land, will be carried out at the new hospital”.
Dr Peter Boylan, one of the most vocal critics of potential religious involvement in the new hospital, issued a statement saying: “I welcome the confirmation that there will be no possibility of religious ethos influencing clinical care.”
“I also welcome confirmation that the governance arrangements have been revised to ensure full clinical and operational independence.”
Dr Boylan, an obstetrician/gynaecologist and former Master of the NMH, said: “The minister is to be commended for his patience and tenacity in getting to this point,” he said.
Dr Boylan was recently appointed to assist the HSE as it prepares to introduce an abortion service from January 1. The legislation allowing the service to commence was signed into law yesterday by President Michael D Higgins.
Mr Harris said the agreement in principle of St Vincent’s Healthcare Group to (SVHG) provide the State with a 99-year lease of the land upon which the new maternity hospital will be built will allow the State to retain ownership of the new facility, to be operated by the National Maternity Hospital DAC (Designated Activity Company).
He said a suite of legal documents has been prepared “to give effect to this agreement and will be finalised in the New Year, in conjunction with both the NMH and St Vincent’s Healthcare Group”.
He said the documents will protect the State’s “significant financial investment in the new hospital” — €300m, up from €150m when it was first announced in 2013 — and “further confirm that the NMH will retain its clinical and operational independence”.
The minister said SVHG had confirmed the process by which the Sisters of Charity will transfer their shareholding and withdraw from the group.
And he welcomed the fact that the agreement includes provision for a Public Interest representative on the Board of the new NMH DAC — which had been a recent sticking point.
Responding to the news that the project is proceeding in light of concerns that new EU building rules would force its redesign if first phase funding was not released before the end of the year, the National Maternity Hospital said in a statement it was delighted that construction will begin in 2019.
“This state-of-the-art hospital will ensure that healthcare for future generations of Irish women and infants is of the highest international standard,” the statement said.