€66m intended for children's hospital has been diverted to Covid-19 projects

€66m intended for children's hospital has been diverted to Covid-19 projects

Construction of the new National Children's Hospital taking place in Dublin.

Opposition leaders have raised serious questions after learning that €66m of funding allocated to the National Children's Hospital has been diverted into Covid-19 projects.

Labour leader, Alan Kelly, has suggested that there is now a "profiling of the spending on the hospital happening" and called for  clarity from the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board (NPHDB).

"Are arguments and difficulties being created in order to slow down the construction, or are they all genuine issues between the contractor and the board, or is this impacting movement?" Mr Kelly asked.

Social Democrats co-leader, Roisín Shortall, said the diversion of funds will have major impacts on next year's budget, as the money will still have to be found.

It had been expected that the main contractor, BAM, would have been paid €325m for work on the hospital this year, but just €118.8m has been drawn down, the Department of Health has confirmed.

This is €166m less than the pre-pandemic anticipated draw-down for the year to date and around €66m of this has now, instead, been pumped into Covid-19-related projects.

Citing delay relating to the closure of the site, the department said funding is only provided for incurred expenditure, and there will, therefore, be an underspend on the project in 2020.

The department confirmed to the Irish Examiner that a carry-over of €100m into 2021, the maximum allowable under public financial procedures, has been applied.

"The balance of the underspend was used to fund emergency Covid work," a spokesperson said.

Stephen Donnelly, the health minister, said a "revised cash-flow profile" has recently been received from the NPHDB, and the HSE capital plan has been adjusted accordingly.

"The NPHDB is also working on a project update to take account of the impact of the delay experienced on the project to date, including that related to Covid, and this will have an impact on future cash flow," Mr Donnelly said in response to a parliamentary question from Ms Shortall.

Ms Shortall said: "This is an absolute flagship project; there are serious questions around the way it has been handled, the way it has been project-managed from the very beginning."

She said the hospital, which has already been dogged by delays and budget overruns, now needs to be finished as quickly, and as cost-effectively, as possible.

Ms Shortall called on the minister to "grab a hold of it" to ensure costs do not balloon further and said there is a need for  transparency, both from the board and the department.

She said it is hard to track budget allocations for Covid-19 measures, because of the significant amount of money spent since the pandemic.

Mr Kelly said: "There is profiling of the spending on the hospital happening, there is a significant underspend, and because of that, that money is now being transferred across to be spent on the Covid emergency measures.

"This is an indisputable fact. The question we really need to ask Stephen Donnelly is whether part of this profiling, and delay in construction, is happening because the Government wants to divert money from the hospital to Covid emergency works across the country because it needs that funding, rather than anything driven by the fact that the progression of the hospital has slowed down. There's a big distinction there," he said.

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