Paediatricians in war of words over hospital site

SIX professors of paediatrics opposed to the selection of the Mater Hospital as the site for a new national children’s hospital have publicly challenged the right of their representative body to say it endorses the project.

In a letter to a newspaper, the six professors question the origins of a press release issued by the Faculty of Paediatrics of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland (RCPI) which they argue does not represent their views.

The statement, issued on October 12 by the faculty, said it “strongly supports the proposed new national paediatric hospital” and it describes the faculty as “the authoritative professional body representing paediatricians in Ireland”.

However, six professors – including paediatric surgeons Prof Ray Fitzgerald, Prof Edward Guiney and Prof Barry O’Donnell, as well as Prof Joe McMenamin, Prof of Paediatrics at Bahrain Medical University; Prof NV O’Donohoe, Prof Emeritus Trinity College Dublin; and Prof Conor Ward, founding dean, Faculty of Paediatrics, RCPI, England – have all publicly voiced their opposition to this statement. Writing in the Irish Times yesterday, the six doctors said it was “necessary to correct any public perception that there is overall professional support for the proposal to locate the national children’s hospital on the Mater Hospital site”.

They also queried the “provenance” of the October 12 press release supporting the Mater site, saying it was “being contested in the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland”.

“The projected Mater Hospital site is opposed by many of those with very considerable national and international experience of caring for sick children. The manner in which the project has been advanced has not given any opportunity to those who would advocate the merits of a freestanding children’s hospital to express their views,” the hospital consultants wrote.

Yesterday, in response to the letter, the RCPI Faculty of Paediatrics, reiterated its support for the proposed new hospital. A spokesperson for the faculty said the proposed hospital had been discussed at several board meetings and two Annual General Meetings of the faculty over the past four years, including at the AGM on Friday, October 8 and there was “overwhelming support” at this meeting for it.

She acknowledged that “individual paediatricians have the right and freedom to express their own opinions” but said statements issued by the faculty are done so “as a statement from the authoritative body”.

A meeting of the board on October 12 discussed what has since become a controversial press release and there was unanimous support for its release, which went through the usual press protocols, the spokesperson said.

As elected representatives of the fellows, faculty board members have the right to express a professional opinion on their behalf. Another faculty member, retired paediatrician Dr Roisín Healy, also voiced opposition to the project and has vowed to continue to do so at the An Bord Pleanála oral hearing on the development.

The new hospital will have 445 inpatient and day beds, with the needs of children up to 2021 provided for.

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