The Chairman of the Oireachtas health committee Dr Michael Harty is calling on the Minister for Health Simon Harris “to step up and take political responsibility” for the overrun of €450million in the cost of the national children’s hospital.
There hasn’t been responsibility or accountability by the Departments of Health and Public Expenditure and Reform, he told RTE’s News at One.
“We need to see what is happening with those departments. I am very anxious to talk to the secretary general of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform to see how that decision was come to.”
Dr Harty said that the department would have had to approve the overrun of €450million, so there is a need to find out the level of its involvement.
He said it seemed unbelievable that the department’s representative on the hospital development board did not report what he knew (about the overrun) to the Minister. “I can’t understand that.”
Dr Harty also expressed amazement that both the Taoiseach and the Minister for Health were giving priority to projects in the constituencies of two Independent Alliance junior ministers.
It seems extraordinary that they would be given priority.
There were many other projects such as co-locating the two maternity hospitals, overcrowding at Limerick University Hospital, nursing homes and primary care centres.
He called on the Government to “just start getting Sláintecare off the ground.”
It was being put on the long finger and the knock-on effects were going to be even greater, he warned.
'Not on my watch': Health Minister will not pause building of National Children's Hospital
The cost of not proceeding with the national children’s hospital “would not be worth it” is the opinion of the Minister for Health Simon Harris.
He said he has every intention of taking political responsibility for the escalating costs, and will do anything, short of letting the project be jeopardised.
Costs will be reined in, he told RTE’s Today with Sean O’Rourke show, without having an impact on children’s safety.
“Yes, it is costing more than we would like, but not doing it would be worse.”
He said the PWC report will quickly determine where the weaknesses and where blame lies, the Government can then take action. PWC cannot sanction individuals, their job is to identify weaknesses, “it is up to us to sanction.”
The Minister admitted that he had been surprised on Saturday when the Chair of the hospital development board, Tom Costello, announced he was stepping down from the position.
He denied that he had anything to do with Mr Costello’s decision even though they had met on Friday evening.
I wasn’t expecting it on Saturday. Tom made his own decision.
Mr Harris said that he and Mr Costello had both been aware that his (Mr Costello’s) name was being “bandied about”. A witch hunt was not desirable, he said.
There needs to be due process, he added. “Clearly something went wrong. Yes, basic things went wrong. Quantities were completely off.”
When questioned, the Minister said he had first known about “a potential over run” in August, but it was November before he was informed of the amount.
Suggestions that the project should be paused would not happen, he said. “Not on my watch.”
Members of the Opposition were duty bound to say what they would have done, he said. He remains determined to “get the best possible deal for the Irish taxpayer.”
He rejected the suggestion that details of the escalation in costs had not been revealed sooner because of the threat of a general election. “That is the most ridiculous charge.”
Mr Harris said it would be a scandal if the hospital did not go ahead. “This hospital is underway. There are brick on bricks. The James’ site is the right site.
We’ve got to get this right, children have been waiting for generations.
Labour party health spokesperson Alan Kelly said it was “stretching incredulity” to say that the government department representatives on the hospital development board did not notify the Minister sooner of escalating costs.
“Political accountability at the top is going to be questioned.”
There were protocols in place for public servants on boards, he said the Minister should read those guidelines. Mr Kelly said was surprised at the lack of oversight.
“The Minister took his eye off the ball. In the space of a few months the amount went up €450million. Both government departments were asleep at the wheel on this the biggest project ever undertaken in the State.”
Mr Kelly said the project had gone too far to change site. “We need the hospital, I desperately want to see that.”
Earlier: Government urged to consider alternative sites for new National Children's Hospital
Fianna Fáil’s health spokesperson Stephen Donnelly wants the terms of reference for the PWC review of escalating costs for the National Children’s Hospital to be expanded to include the feasibility of moving the project to another site.
It would be useful to address that aspect, “if nothing else, but out of respect for those raising the issue,” he told RTE’s Morning Ireland.
He repeated that he did not have confidence in the hospital development board after its chairman Tom Costello stepped down on Saturday citing concern for the “reputational damage” to the project.
Mr Donnelly added that he would not be surprised to see more resignations from the board.
On Sunday Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said that the Government had looked at the terms of reference of the review currently being conducted by consultants PWC and decided to revise them to enable it to find individuals accountable for cost overruns, if this was the case.
Mr Donnelly said that the escalating cost of the children’s hospital could have “devastating” knock-on effect on other health projects.
“In a normal hospital the cost is €1million per bed, for the children’s hospital it is currently at €3.7million per bed.”
He said that accountability is important, but what was more important was getting costs down. Mr Donnelly said he still believed that the St James hospital site was the wrong location. Trying to fit a major project on a six acre site when there were 90 acres available at the Connolly hospital was “wrong.”
It would be useful for PWC to address this issue too. He welcomed the Taoiseach’s announcement about culpability.
You can’t run a country where no one is held to account. People are scared of lawyers.
Minister for Finance and Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe says he believes information on the escalating cost of the national children’s hospital should have been made available to the Government earlier.
He told RTE’s Morning Ireland that he first became aware of the scale of the increase last November despite the fact that an official from his department is a member of the hospital development board.
The official’s responsibility was to the board itself, he was a member of a separate governance structure, explained the Minister.
“Yes, things should have been done differently.”
The Minister said he knew all of the individuals on the board and he was sure they took their responsibility very seriously and they were aware of the national importance of the project.
He rejected a call from Fianna Fáil’s health spokesperson Stephen Donnelly for PWC’s review to include the possibility of relocating the hospital. Relocation was not possible at this stage he said because of the amount of progress on the St James site.
Otherwise we’re facing years of delays. I believe the location is right. It was the subject of many clinical reviews.
Mr Donohoe said that next week he would announce a list of capital projects that may be delayed because of the escalating cost of the children’s hospital. The amount involved for 2019 is €100million out of a capital expenditure of €1.4billion.
“The cost of the project will be easily contained this year.”
He said he is gravely concerned at the escalating cost, but warned that as high as the cost is, “what is the price of better health outcomes for children?”