National Maternity Hospital 'will be fully independent', insists department

National Maternity Hospital 'will be fully independent', insists department

The Department of Health says Minister Stephen Donnelly is 'clear' there are no remaining concerns. Picture: Gareth Chaney/Collins 

The Department of Health has insisted the new National Maternity Hospital will be fully independent, offering access to all legally available treatment, in a response to questions from the Oireachtas health committee.

The department says Health Minister Stephen Donnelly is “clear” there are
no remaining concerns
, based on information from the HSE, the current National Maternity Hospital (NMH), and St Vincent’s Healthcare Group (SVHG).

In relation to abortions, it states: “The department has received letters from HSE, NMH and SVHG which confirm that terminations, along with other services such as voluntary sterilisation [tubal ligation], fertility and assisted human reproduction treatments will continue to be provided at the new NMH.”
There were concerns the insertion of a phrase “clinically appropriate” could put access to voluntary sterilisation at risk, but the department does not agree.

It says this phrase "clarifies the full range of services that will be provided at the new hospital, protecting the hospital for its intended use, and it is broad enough to include future improvements and innovations". 

The term does not provide “a back door” for refusing services such as “termination of pregnancy, provision of contraception services including tubal ligation, fertility services, and gender affirming procedures”.

Medical independence

The response states the constitution of the new NMH, published on the HSE website, protects medical independence.

This gives ‘reserved powers’ to hospital directors to act independently on “provision of medical, surgical, nursing, midwifery services, without religious ethos or ethnic or other distinction”. 

In relation to the lease, the response states the HSE has a “leasehold interest” for 299 years. The rent is €10 annually unless it changes the use of the building.

This lease uses a term “demises” which the response states “creates a leasehold estate (otherwise known as a leasehold ownership) in the Premises (being the land and buildings) which conveys the land and buildings to the HSE for the 299-year term of the lease.”

It says the ‘golden share’ granted to health ministers gives rights far stronger than those for ordinary shares.

This offers added protection, the response states, in any scenario where SVHG is sold and against any changes in constitutions of SVHG or the charitable body St Vincent’s Holdings, which owns SVHG.

The response notes the operating licence also ensures independence of the new hospital, and if this is breached then SVHG would be obliged to sell the site to the HSE.

Catholic influence

Questions were also raised around Catholic influence in the values of St Vincent’s Holdings.

The response states “human dignity” is a commonly used phrase in value statements, including references to “dignity and respect” in the HSE’s healthcare charter.

“It should also be noted that, the Religious Sisters of Charity no longer have any role in St Vincent’s Healthcare Group (SVHG). SVHG is a secular organisation,” the response states.

Colm Burke, Fine Gael health spokesperson said: “The committee has heard from a large number of clinicians, legal advisers and representatives who have sought to allay the genuine concerns that people have. 

"I believe that we now must press ahead with the plan to develop this long-awaited healthcare facility to continue to deliver the best outcomes for patients.”

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