Funding for a vital phase of a new €60m children's hospital in Cork has been approved.
It comes amid confirmation that a planning application for the long-awaited facility on the grounds of Cork University Hospital (CUH) is expected to be lodged within weeks.
Thecan reveal that planning will be sought for a three-storey overground, two-storey basement facility, to include 78 single en-suite rooms, each with a sleeping area for parents, special disability rooms, high-dependency rooms, haematology and oncology rooms, as well as a mental health and a palliative care room.
It will have a six-bed paediatric assessment unit and an ambulatory, or outpatient care space, a school, a HSPC (health and social care professional) space, with a physio gym, and clinic space for occupational therapists and dieticians.
And crucially, the new unit will have four paediatric surgical theatres in its basement, each one with capacity for about 1,200 cases per year.
Once built, it is expected that paediatric services at the Mercy University Hospital will transfer to CUH.
While capital approval has been given for the design phase, Ernst and Young have been appointed to conduct a cost-benefit analysis report for the third, or construction phase, it emerged on Friday. That report is expected to be ready for consideration by the end of January, at which point the scheme will proceed to planning.
“This is very welcome news for families across Cork and indeed the Munster region," Taoiseach Micheál Martin said.
“I am acutely aware of the need to modernise the paediatric facilities in Cork and progressing this development at CUH has been a high priority for me and HSE management.
“Following the report back from Ernst and Young in January the aim will be to continue moving this project forward without delay to the planning stage as soon as possible in 2021.”
CUH’s existing children’s unit was built in 1978. Its paediatric services decanted to another area of the hospital five years ago amid hopes that a new children’s unit was imminent but the services are all still being delivered in that temporary location.
The paediatric facilities are in need of significant expansion and modernisation and campaigning and fundraising for an extension and upgrades have been underway for several years.
Two of the project’s biggest supporters, CUH Charity ambassador and Ireland and Munster rugby star, Peter O’Mahony, and his Munster team-mate, Billy Holland, were briefed on the planning application during a site visit.
Mr O’Mahony said he was delighted to finally see significant progress.
“I was talking to some of the paediatric specialists working at CUH and they have been 10 years working on this project - they have been a long time waiting,” he said.
“News that a planning application is coming is a real statement of intent that this is going ahead.
“There has been a lot of talk about the new children’s hospital in Dublin but this will be such an important facility for the people of Munster - it is badly needed.”
Consultant paediatrician, Dr Dave Mullane, the clinical director for paediatrics at CUH, said the pace of delivery has been frustrating but he was glad to see a planning application being lodged.
“It is great to see a national paediatrics hospital being built in Dublin but 98% of the young patients we see here get all of their treatment here. Just 2% require transfer to Dublin,” he said.
“We need to ensure that the facilities here at CUH are of similar standard and to the best international standard.
“We need a similar standard of facilities for children of this region to ensure that their care can be delivered as close to home as possible.” CUH CEO Ger O’Callaghan welcomed the project and said he expects the planning application will be made early in the new year.
Just over 40,000 children were treated at CUH last year - 15,000 through its emergency department, 15,000 attended out-patient clinics and there were 6,100 admissions as in-patients and day cases.