Surgeon warns: To deprive CUH of co-location would be ‘catastrophic’

A PRIVATE hospital on the grounds of Ireland’s largest publicly owned hospital campus is not sustainable, groups fighting the controversial project told a public hearing yesterday.

However, one of the country’s top surgeons said anything that would deprive Cork University Hospital (CUH) of the co-located facilities proposed by the Beacon Medical Group (BMG) would be “catastrophic”.

“The greater good must prevail,” consultant surgeon and professor of surgery Liam Kirwan said.

The comments were made on the first day of a Bord Pleanála public hearing into BMG’s proposal to build a €250 million 175-bed private co-located hospital on the CUH campus.

The hearing, chaired by inspector Ozmur Yucel-Finn, heard opening arguments from both sides.

The hospital would employ more than 511 staff directly, supporting a further 780 indirect jobs, the hearing was told. It would feature a double basement carpark with 511 spaces, a 160-space upper deck carpark and 42 surface level spaces.

It would be operated under the terms of a joint initiative between BMG and its US partner, University of Pittsburgh Medical Centre, a not-for-profit global healthcare hospital in Pennsylvania.

BMG’s planning consultant, Tom Phillips, said the proposed facility derives from and will help realise Government policy and conforms with national, regional and local planning guidelines.

He said a mobility plan submitted by BMG during the planning appeals process would help Bord Pleanála assess the hospital’s impact on the surrounding area.

Tom Finn, the Health Service Executive official in charge of co-location, said the CUH site was the only suitable location in the county for the project.

The hearing was told that CUH, which opened in 1978, had seen huge expansion in the last five years:

* A new accident and emergency department opened in 2005;

* A new outpatient department opened in 2006;

* CUH maternity hospital opened in 2007;

* A new cardio renal unit is due to open in 2010;

* And, pending the outcome of the oral hearing, building work on the co-location hospital is due to start in 2009.

In an observation, CUH-based orthopaedic surgeon Dr Mark Dolan said the public hospital was working beyond its capacity.

“A co-located hospital is the only way to provide extra facilities in as short a time as possible. A refusal of this project could set back muscular skeletal hospital services by a decade,” he said.

Senior city council planner Ronnie McDowell said the original CUH campus was intended to serve a regional function. Its proximity to key national roads and its excellent bus links should also be taken into account, he said.

Fellow planner Jeremy Ward said however it was the council’s view that a review of the hospital’s strategic plan to cover 2007-2012 was needed. He also said there was an acute need for creche facilities in the area and a cap on car parking at CUH.

One of the main appellants to the project, the Laburnum Wilton Residents’ Association, said locals had an issue with the location of the proposed private hospital, and not the Government’s policy of co-location itself. “Our concern is shared by our national and local public representative, Minister Micheál Martin, who has stated publicly that the development is not sustainable,” chairman Eamonn Cashell said.

He also cited the lack of an overall strategic master plan for CUH. The last one was prepared in 2000. “We find it extraordinary that we would move in to a development of this scale before a master plan is put in place,” he said.

Local resident Mary Tobin pointed out that more than 140 objections were lodged against the project. She said the council did not heed residents’ concerns.

The other named appellants, Green Party city councillor Chris O’Leary, and Socialist Cllr Mick Barry, also made submissions opposing the project, as did local Fianna Fáil Cllr Mary Shields, as an observer.

The hearing continues today.

A decision is expected in November.

What is the policy all about?

THE Programme for Government 2006 has a specific objective of delivering 3,000 extra public hospital beds.

The Government issued a policy directive to the HSE under Section 10 of the Health Act 2004 to implement the co-located hospitals project in July 2005.

It is designed to free up additional beds for public patients in public hospitals by the development of private hospital facilities on public hospital sites.

Eight hospital sights were chosen — Tallaght, Beaumont, St James’s and Connolly hospitals in Dublin, Sligo General, the Mid-West Regional Hospital (MWRH) in Limerick, Waterford Regional, and Cork University Hospital (CUH).

Combined, the private hospitals are designed to provide 1,000 extra public beds at no cost to the state.

The Beacon Medical Group (BMG) won tenders to build and operate co-located facilities at CUH, MWRH, and Beaumont.

Planning permission has been granted to build facilities at MWRH and a notification to grant has been received in respect of Beaumont. Further to an appeal a decision on Beaumont will be announced next month.

BMG is a healthcare company founded in 2002 by cardio-thoracic surgeon Professor Mark Redmond and his business partners Michael Cullen and developer Paddy Shovlin.

It owns the Beacon Medical Campus in Sandyford, Dublin, a former industrial park that has been transformed into an award-winning 183-bed hospital.

Timeline: Planning appeals

January 10 2008: The Beacon Medical Group (BMG) lodges planning applications for three co-location hospitals — in Dublin, Cork University Hospital (CUH) and Limerick — worth €800 million.

January 28: Former Enterprise Minister Micheál Martin tells a public meeting of residents objecting to the CUH project that in his view, it is “not sustainable” on the campus.

January 30: Rebel Fianna Fáil TD Ned O’Keeffe describes the proposed private hospital at CUH as “bad planning”.

February 5: Micheál Martin says he fully supports the Government’s co-location policy and sees no conflict in his stance against the CUH project.

February 8: CUH’s consultant medical staff write to Mr Martin asking him to change his stance.

February 13: BMG mounts a charm offensive and brings a raft of experts to its first public information day in Cork outlining details of the project to locals.

February 26: Respected Professor of Surgery at CUH, Liam Kirwan, says the “greater good” should win out over local planning concerns. Over 144 submissions have been received by the city council — just one supports the project. Among those to object are Fianna Fáil’s public representatives for the area, Minister Micheál Martin, Michael McGrath TD, and Cllrs Mary Shields and Fergal Dennehy.

March 6: Cork City Council gives the project the go-ahead, with conditions.

March 10: City manager Joe Gavin defends the decision and says Government policy did not influence planners. It would have been a sad reflection on Cork city if it could not accommodate a “critical public facility”, he said.

The decision is appealed to Bórd Pleanála by Wilton Gardens Residents’ Association, Mary Lucy and Tadhg Wall, Cllr Mick Barry, Senator Dan Boyle and Cllr Chris O’Leary.

August 5: The planning appeals board announces an oral hearing.

September 23: Hearing begins.

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