Hospital board ‘cannot handle project’

THE board set up to drive the development of the proposed €650 million national children’s hospital does not have the expertise to handle such a crucial and large-scale project, according to its former chair.

John Gallagher, who resigned as chair of the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board in March, outlined his lack of confidence in the board’s make-up in a letter to Health Minister Dr James Reilly, obtained under FOI legislation by the Irish Examiner.

On March 9, less than three weeks before his resignation, Mr Gallagher urged Dr Reilly to either let the Health Service Executive “formally take over the running of the project”, using its own internal experts, or to alter the composition of the board to include members with expertise in large-scale construction and with the financial acumen to oversee large-scale capital expenditure.

Mr Gallagher was unhappy the project’s three-man executive team, whose role is to manage external consultants and contractors, did not have the resources or skills to control and regulate day-to-day activity of the multimillion project, funded largely by the taxpayer.

Mr Gallagher called on the minister to:

* Hand control of funding to the National Development Finance Agency (NDFA) which advises the state on financing of priority public investment projects.

* Commit Government funds to the project, without which Mr Gallagher said he did not believe it safe to start construction.

* Endorse the Mater campus as a suitable site for the hospital, because failure to do so would “fatally compromise the project”.

Mr Gallagher said the executive team — consisting of former nurse and chief executive of the development board Eilish Hardiman, accountant Jim Farragher and paediatrician Dr Emma Curtis — did “not have the capacity to process, challenge and authorise the significant number of ‘change orders’ the project team generates”.

The significance of this, he said, was that nobody was disputing the costs of some change orders (written instructions about changes to a job already in progress, and the cost of this new work) or the validity of other change orders.

He said: “Given the scale of the project, the scope for change orders to get out of control and materially exceed budgets is high.”

Mr Gallagher urged Dr Reilly to appoint “at least two” members to the executive team to control the day-to-day activity of the project, as well as a cost director to manage day-to-day costs, but with the NDFA in charge of ultimate sign-off.

He described the current project structure as “unworkable”.

Mr Gallagher is the second chair of the development board to resign in less than six months. Philip Lynch resigned last October. Meanwhile, Ms Hardiman is to leave the board to take up a post at Tallaght hospital.

Dr Reilly announced his own review of the project following this news.

A spokesperson for Dr Reilly said that all decisions in relation to the future of the hospital “will be contingent on the review”.

The project, which has been almost 10 years in the offing, has been dogged by delays. The current stoppage, pending completion of the review, is costing €330,000 per month.


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