Ireland's children's hospital another four years away, says health minister
IT will be another four-and-a-half years before the new national children's hospital opens in the Republic, health minister Simon Harris has said.
Originally promised for late 2016 and then for early 2018, delays and dispute over the location at St James's in Dublin's south inner city have seen costs balloon by €200 million (£170m) to €1 billion (£849m), reportedly the most expensive paediatric facility in the world.
Mr Harris blamed the spiralling price tag on soaring construction costs, a longer than anticipated planning, procurement and approvals process, and the tenders coming in at a higher than forecast price.
"Today is a huge step forward for the children's hospital project, ending years of doubt as to whether it would ever be built. Today, there is no more doubt," the minister said.
Selecting the site of the children's hospital has been dogged by more than a decade of opposition, with the original plan for the Mater having to be shelved after €40m (£34m) was spent on it and the continued warnings from some campaigners the inner city site will run into traffic and access problems.
But building work at St James's will begin in weeks.
The state-of-the-art facility will incorporate Our Lady's Children's Hospital, Crumlin and Children's University Hospital Temple Street and the paediatric service at Tallaght.
The new Coombe Women and Infants University Hospital will also be built on the campus once the children's facility is finished so adult, paediatric and maternity services are all being planned for the one location.
It will also care for sick babies and children from Northern Ireland.
The new hospital will have 380 single rooms with en-suite bathrooms and a bed for a parent, including 60 critical care rooms incorporating paediatric and neonatology intensive care/high dependency, and 20 child and adolescent mental health beds, which will be open to patients with eating disorders and acute conditions.
There will be a "rooftop rainbow garden" offering what the planners said will be a secure and sheltered environment beside wards.
A Children's Research and Innovation Centre, funded entirely through philanthropy, will also be built at St James's giving staff the chance to study, evaluate and improve the services.
The campus will be home to a hospital school, underground parking, specialist therapy and play facilities, 93 daycare bays, 22 operating theatres and procedure rooms, and 122 consulting rooms.
The A&E will have 12 short stay observation beds and 36 assessment bays.
While the construction at St James's is ongoing, two paediatric outpatient and urgent care centres at Tallaght and Connolly hospitals are due to open at the end of 2018 and the early part of 2019.
The Department of Health said the two smaller facilities will offer children consultant-led care, observation beds, diagnostics and secondary outpatient services including rapid access to general paediatric clinics, developmental checks and multidisciplinary care for chronic stable conditions.
The total cost for the children's hospitals and the two other units will be €1.07bn.
Back in 2014 it was originally expected to cost €650 million.
Mr Harris said that calculation did not include equipment, educational facilities, shops or car parking – which are estimated to run to €140m.
Another €110m is to be spent on energy, clinical decontamination and facilities management.
The Department of Health said another €183m has been added to the cost from construction inflation, planning and procurement delays and higher tendering costs.
Fianna Fáil's health spokesman Billy Kelleher said no further delays will be tolerated.
"At last, we have final confirmation and approval from the government. This much-needed piece of national health infrastructure has been too long in the making, and it is now time to proceed with haste to deliver it as quickly as possible, and in as cost effective way as possible," he said.