Building the National Children’s Hospital in Dublin’s inner city is nonsensical. Connolly is a much better fit and the Government must admit it was wrong, writes Fin Breatnach

Why, oh why can we do nothing right? With the perfect 145-acre site available for the new National Children’s Hospital next to Connolly Memorial Hospital off the M50 and with nine out of every 10 children in the country living outside the M50, in 2012 with no justification whatsoever, the Fine Gael/Labour cabinet decided to build it deep in Dublin’s inner city on a congested site at St James’s Hospital.

Here we go again. That site was chosen without a single report ever recommending it and without the involvement of either parents or staff.

The Government’s decision was based on deeply flawed advice — that the children’s hospital needed to be located beside the adult St James’s Hospital for better medical care for the children.

This is false and, despite repeated requests, the Government is unable to provide any evidence to support that claim. This decision will have enormous negative repercussions for sick children and their families throughout this island.

Why should the chosen location of the hospital be of concern to you?

Because there will be hundreds of thousands of visits by sick children to this new hospital every year from all corners of the country, including from Northern Ireland. These are somebody’s children. One day it could be your child or your grandchild.

Despite repeated claims to the contrary by the Government, it is obvious that a full-service maternity hospital cannot be accommodated on the St James’s site. It is accepted that the children’s hospital must be physically connected through a short corridor to a maternity hospital — this is 21st century medicine.

Every year up to 500 newborns will be transferred to this new children’s hospital. These babies may be critically ill and do not cope well with ambulance journeys. Fifteen of the top specialists who care for these children have said co-location with a physically linked maternity hospital is, in their expert opinion, non-negotiable.

“We are unwilling to endorse a national children’s hospital on a site that cannot accommodate this critical adjacency. To do so would be to fail those infants whom we are entrusted to protect. To proceed with such a project will result in the avoidable death or disability of many newborn babies for years to come,” says the statement.

The concern of these experts has been completely ignored by the Government.

An artist’s impression of the room design for the children’s hospital at St James’s Hospital. Dr Fin Breatnach says the design plan is ‘cutting corners to a totally unacceptable degree’.
An artist’s impression of the room design for the children’s hospital at St James’s Hospital. Dr Fin Breatnach says the design plan is ‘cutting corners to a totally unacceptable degree’.

The Government claims that access to the St James’s site is not a problem. But the air/sea rescue helicopter cannot land there because the site is too small for a ground-based helipad.

John Smyth, a recently retired ambulance driver and therefore free to speak out, was based at St James’s for 30 years, 13 of which were spent in transporting newborns from all over the country

He claims St James’s is the most difficult hospital for ambulances to access. “It’s a disaster. You can do nothing with the roads in that area. It is crazy to build a hospital in there.”

If an ambulance with its flashing blue lights finds it difficult, imagine being a parent with a critically ill child in your car in the same situation.

The Government has claimed that there will be “ample” parking and that it will “treble” at the new children’s hospital. This is also false.

The parking provided will be relatively less than what was available at Crumlin alone in 2010 and no one would suggest that that was ample.

It is accepted fact that 90% of sick children will arrive at the hospital by car. Already highly stressed with a sick child, parents from all over the country will be driving through heavy traffic to this hospital and will have to face the further unnecessary stress of not finding a parking space.

Dublin City Council has imposed a parking limit for the site due to the inadequate surrounding road network. You couldn’t make it up.

The St James’s site is simply too small to accommodate the National Children’s Hospital. The design plan for the hospital is already cutting corners to a totally unacceptable degree.

When it opens in 2021 (if not later) the paediatric population will have grown to such an extent that there will be proportionately fewer children’s hospital beds than we had in 2012. This is despite already having thousands of children on waiting lists. The Family Accommodation Unit and Research Centre will be smaller than was requested, with no space for future expansion.

According to Jimmy Sheehan, an orthopaedic surgeon and builder of three successful hospitals, the children’s hospital could be built at the Connolly Hospital site in Blanchardstown more quickly than at St James’s. According to two Government reports, building there would also save the State at least €250m. The merits of the Connolly site are compelling and, to date, no meaningful disadvantage of the site has been identified by anyone.

The Rotunda Maternity Hospital is relocating there. This, in effect, makes Connolly the perfect site.

The design of the new children’s hospital at St James’s Hospital. Fears have been expressed over traffic congestion inhibiting access, and a lack of parking at the city centre location.
The design of the new children’s hospital at St James’s Hospital. Fears have been expressed over traffic congestion inhibiting access, and a lack of parking at the city centre location.

The Government must take a long-term view for the 21st century and beyond and make the location of the new children’s hospital a cornerstone of a future health infrastructure for the whole island. With the 145 acres available on Dublin’s ring road, it is the obvious location for the development of the much-needed adult major trauma centre. Construction occurring there will be faster, cheaper, and, most importantly, safer for children.

The current site clearing at St James’s will allow for one of the two planned urgent care centres to be built there to meet the medical needs of the children of the inner city. With 90% of children living outside the M50, the specialist tertiary medical needs of the sickest children in the country would clearly be better addressed on an accessible site off the M50.

The lunacy of building the National Children’s Hospital at St James’s must stop now. Not one justification can be made for the choice of the St James’s site and we have successfully refuted every single claim advanced by the Government to date.

Yet, despite our group’s wide- reaching expertise, the Government has steadfastly refused to engage with us. Afraid to hear the truth?

Dr Fin Breatnach, retired consultant paediatric oncologist, on behalf of Connolly for Kids Hospital. (Connollyforkidshospital.com)

The group is made up of independent individuals, paediatric healthcare professionals, parents of critically ill children, survivors of severe childhood illnesses, children’s organisations, parents’ organisations, community groups, and others concerned over the selection of the St James’s site for the new National Children’s Hospital


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