Planning granted for €650m children’s hospital

Health Minister Leo Varadkar said yesterday it was a “great regret and a great tragedy for the country” that the planned building of the new national children’s hospital took so long.

Planning granted for €650m children’s hospital

Planning permission has been granted for the new €650m hospital to be built at the St James’s Hospital site in Dublin. Construction is due to start in the summer and is expected to take four years.

An Bord Pleanála attached 17 conditions to the 10-year permission for the 473-bed hospital but did not seek any major changes to the original planning application.

Mr Varadkar said he was conscious there were now young adults in Ireland who would have been babies when a single tertiary paediatric hospital based in Dublin was first proposed.

In 1993, the faculty of paediatrics at the Royal College of Physicians put forward a plan for the construction of a national children’s hospital on an adult hospital site.

“It is a great regret and a great tragedy for the country that this took so long,” said Mr Varadkar, adding, however, that it is now important that everyone got behind the building of the new hospital.

“Hopefully, people who are in their 20s now will have the benefit of it for their children, should they need it,” he said.

Mr Varadkar said the granting of planning permission was “a massive milestone” for children, young people, and families in Ireland.

It would be the single biggest capital project in the history of Irish healthcare.

Speaking on RTÉ radio, he claimed people could not challenge the project on planning grounds. There had been oral hearings held over two weeks when everyone made their case and cross-examined each other.

“They may try to do so on a point of law,” he said. “But I really hope that everyone will come behind this decision and allow us to begin the enabling works in July and have the whole thing under construction by the end of the year.”

The children’s hospital will bring together, on one single site, Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital Crumlin, Temple Street Children’s University Hospital, and the National Children’s Hospital at Tallaght Hospital.

The hospital will also operate satellite centres in Blanchardstown and Tallaght, to open in 2018.

The national children’s hospital is expected to open in 2020.

Mr Varadkar said he understands people have traffic concerns but there is never going to be a perfect site and there is never going to be unanimity on where the best site is.

He pointed out that planning permission would have to be sought for the construction of the Coombe Women’s and Infants University Hospital on the St James’s site.

There is suitable space reserved on the site — that was all part of the planning process, said Mr Varadkar — but construction cannot start until the children’s hospital is constructed or almost finished.

Over 20 years in the making

A new national children’s hospital has been on the cards for more than 20 years. Here are some of the milestones and stumbling blocks along the way:

1993: After growing concerns in the 1980s about the state of facilities in the three children’s hospitals in Dublin, the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland recommends building a single hospital in the city, preferably on the grounds of an existing adult hospital. Instead, plans are made to move the Adelaide & Meath Hospital to Tallaght and a proposal is considered to rebuild Temple St on the nearby Mater Hospital grounds.

1997: The need to overhaul paediatric hospital services is highlighted when a dispute erupts between the three existing hospitals, Crumlin, Temple St, and the Adelaide & Meath (then in the process of moving to Tallaght), over which can lay claim to a new permanent surgical post about to be filled. Comhairle na nOspideal sets up a committee to review the situation.

1998: The committee finds paediatricians unanimous in wanting “one paediatric surgical centre in Dublin... providing a specialist surgical service for the whole country” as well as general paediatric services to Dublin and the east. However, they also accepted they would have to compromise because of the “absence of a green-field situation” and the “institutional aspirations” of the three existing hospitals. That compromise meant maintaining all three but centralising complex care in one, namely Crumlin.

And so it was until:

2001: Then health minister Micheál Martin publishes a major health policy document which includes the promise of a national review of paediatric services.

2004: Despite this promise, planning is sought and, in 2005, granted for the rebuilding of Temple St alongside a new Mater.

2005: The newly established HSE commissions an independent study of paediatric hospital services. Consultants McKinsey are given the task. The new Temple St is put on hold.

2006, February: It’s groundhog day. The McKinsey Report recommends one major hospital in Dublin providing specialist care for the whole country as well as non-complex care for the greater Dublin area, preferably co-located with an existing adult hospital. A HSE task force is set up to decide the location.

2006 June: The task force recommends the Mater site. The recommendation is endorsed by the HSE and Department of Health and a transition group is set up to oversee the merger of the three existing hospitals. All three are represented in the group but Tallaght and Crumlin signal unhappiness, and the first questions about why a greenfield site has not been considered are asked.

2007: Then health minister Mary Harney is forced to defend the selection of the Mater site amid media reports casting doubt on the thoroughness of the process. Crumlin withdraw from the transition group. Harney appoints a National Paediatric Hospital Development Board and appoints consultants RKW to start drawing up plans for the merger and creation of new hospital.

2009: Crumlin return to the fold, joining the development board, and a design team is appointment to draw up physical plans for the new hospital which is to be built by 2014. Divisions over the location continue with growing concerns about the space restrictions and poor access at the Mater site.

2010: The chair of the development board resigns, citing significant differences with Harney, but the board begins talks with An Bord Pleanála about submitting an application.

2011: Election time. Fine Gael’s election manifesto states it will review the entire project if elected. Another board chairman resigns. FG are elected, a review takes place, it endorses the Mater site, and a planning application is made.

2012: An Bord Pleanála refuse planning permission and another review group is set up. Following review, health minister James Reilly announces Cabinet have now opted to build on the grounds of St James’s Hospital.

2013: A new development board is appointed for the hospital, now expected to be built by 2016.

2014: Another groundhog day. Medics, planners, parents and local residents voice concerns about the space restrictions and access problems at the site.

2015: A planning application is submitted for the hospital, now expected to open in 2019. Oral hearings held at which all the above concerns are aired.

2016: Planning is approved. Health Minister Leo Varadkar says it will cost €650m and will built by 2020, with satellite centres at Tallaght and Blanchardstown providing first-stage emergency care to open in 2018.

Caroline O’Doherty

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