Republic's new National Children's Hospital to cost more than €1.43 billion
The cost of the Republic's new National Children’s Hospital will exceed €1.43 billion, an Oireachtas committee has heard.
National Paediatric Hospital Development Board (NPHDB) chief officer Derek Gunning told the Health Committee the total cost of the project may not be known for years after construction ends due to outstanding legal claims.
More than €1.13 billion had been spent on the project up to the end of July.
Mr Gunning said construction is scheduled to be completed by March 2024.
He did not divulge an estimated total cost, except to say it will be more than the €1.43 billion approved by the government in 2018.
Representatives from the NPHDB and the Department of Health appeared before the committee on Wednesday to give an update on construction progress at the site.
The National Children’s Hospital on the St James’s Hospital site in Dublin is the largest current infrastructure development in the state.
It has run into significant delays and financial overruns.
The overall cost of the project has risen from an estimated 800 million euro in 2014, to €983 million in 2017, to €1.4 billion as of December 2019.
The original completion date in the tender document was August 2022.
Asked by Sinn Féin TD David Cullinane whether the total cost is likely to exceed 1.43 billion, Mr Gunning replied: “Yes, it will be, it will be exceeded.
“As we look at the programme and the 17-month extension, the additional costs will bring us beyond that particular amount.”
He told TDs and senators that construction had “significantly advanced” since July and it is now about 78% completed.
“The advanced progress means that the layout of the hospital is clear and visible to all those who walk through the various departments that are reaching completion stage,” he said.
The committee heard the most advanced areas within the building have floors, walls, ceilings and joinery installed.
“The intensive care pendants and bathroom fittings are being installed, as are the sliding doors,” Mr Gunning said.
“There are 22 operating theatres on the second floor of the building where medical equipment installation, ceilings, walls and floor fit-out is well under way.
“Other areas such as the emergency department, imaging, critical care and therapy areas are progressing at pace.”
Mr Gunning said it is expected that the first hospital rooms will be completed this month but the board could not say when the first patients will be welcomed to the hospital.
Once the project is completed at the end of March 2024, Mr Gunning said it will be handed over to Children’s Health Ireland for a period of commissioning that will take “at least six months”.
Department of Health Assistant Secretary Derek Tierney said the construction timeline had seen an extension in part due to the pandemic and that it would result in “additional costs”.
He told Fine Gael TD Bernard Durkan: “I completely understand the desire for certainty but we are in uncertain times.
“At the moment, we have a contractors programme which is stating a date and that’s the date we’re holding the contractor to.”
He added there is volatility in the construction sector at present but the risk is largely mitigated.
The committee also heard there are 989 claims from the contractor “still in play somewhere along the disputes process”.
Mr Gunning said: “We have a very strong team in place to defend each and every one of these claims.
“But when will these play out? If they are resolved in the conciliation or in the disputes management process we will have an answer.
“But if they go to the High Court then it will, I would say, it will be beyond the opening date of this hospital before the final account will be fully known.”
Mr Cullinane later sought clarity by asking Mr Gunning whether the disputes and the additional costs “could actually go on for months if not years after the project is completed and the hospital even open and doing business”.
Mr Gunning replied: “Correct. That is correct. You’re absolutely right.”
Mr Cullinane said: “I think people will be a bit surprised to hear that long after the hospital is opened and providing services, we’re still likely to be locked in to a process of contractual disputes around costs.
“And even though we accept that the costs will probably be in excess of 1.4 billion (euro)… there’s no indication as to what amount that’s going to be and how long that’s going to take.”