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PLANNING permission for a Beacon private children’s hospital is to be welcomed.
It will take a small number of better-off children out of the public system. Also it pulls a stone out of the myth of a coherent, equitable national policy for children’s hospital healthcare.
Nobody involved in this area opposes the principle of rationalisation. It is the specific implementation proposals (particularly in relation to the single-campus Mater Hospital site ‘solution’) that raise serious questions.
The facts of the matter are bizarre and unbelievable. A sample:
1. From the start we were led to believe the entire finance (between €700m and €1bn) was ringfenced. Not so. A Government which is not noted for its consistency and accuracy with financial projections has hinted that it will find about half (around €400m). The remainder will have to be found by the new institution. In unspecified ways: borrowing, commercial franchise, philanthropy? In a recession?
2. Physical access for patients is to be met by two contradictory propositions. Contrary to current practice, sick or injured children will be delivered to the hospital, (regardless of their condition or the weather) by a city-wide and national public transport system. As yet not built, its future very uncertain. There is also to be a car park with 1,000 spaces. Yet when I last asked the hospital planners, Dublin City Council had not even begun to investigate how it was going to get those 1,000 cars in and out of the gridlocked site.
3. When the new hospital is opened, there will be no overnight beds for children south of the Liffey (apart from a handful of commercial beds in the Beacon?). Crumlin and Tallaght will simply disappear.
4. The project is described, even by otherwise well-informed media, as an “amalgamation” of the three existing children’s hospitals. Not so. Legally, administratively, governance-wise, the new institution will be an entirely separate fourth hospital. On its current 12-member development board (and presumably on the ultimate substantive board), the three existing hospitals and the academics (TCD/UCD) have a total of four representatives. The remainder are nominees of the HSE and the Department of Health. Without in any way questioning the integrity or qualifications of those other eight, this means the new hospital is – in real life – entirely the creature of the HSE.
The commonsense solution, before another euro is spent, is to freeze – not cancel – the project immediately until an entirely independent and objective taskforce has examined the proposals, their history – and the alternative proposals already on the table.
If its report finds that the Mater site, single-campus ‘solution’ is indeed the best one for our children (and not a very expensive ‘legacy’ trophy for Prof Brendan Drumm, Minister Mary Harney and the local TD, Bertie Ahern), I promise herewith to apologise and abstain from further criticism.
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