Seanad Commencement Debate: National Maternity Hospital

I congratulate the Cathaoirleach and all Senators on their election and appointment to this House, and I look forward to working with the Members of Seanad √Čireann. I thank Senator Humphreys for raising this important issue. The proposal to redevelop the National Maternity Hospital on the St. Vincent’s University Hospital campus has been under consideration for many years.

Within a couple of days of my appointment as Minister for Health, I visited the National Maternity Hospital in Holles Street. One cannot leave the place without thinking it is an entirely inappropriate and substandard building. It is not up to the standards we would want for expectant mothers and their infant children and indeed for front-line staff to work and deliver babies in. It is utterly unacceptable. It is quite disgraceful to think we went through the entire Celtic tiger period in this country without ever building the new national maternity hospital.

In 2008, the KPMG independent review of maternity and gynaecology services in the greater Dublin area noted that Dublin’s model of stand-alone maternity hospitals did not align with the considered norm internationally and acknowledged that for optimal clinical outcomes, maternity services should be co-located with adult acute services. The report recommended that the National Maternity Hospital be relocated to the St. Vincent’s University Hospital campus. In 2013, the then Minister for Health, now Senator Reilly, with the agreement of both hospitals, formally announced the Government’s intention to relocate the National Maternity Hospital to Elm Park and said that funding had been approved in the HSE’s capital plan to allow the project to proceed. Work on the design brief for the new maternity hospital has concluded. I have seen a scaled model of the new hospital and can say that it represents a very exciting development for maternity services.

The project is one example of the Government’s commitment to maternity services. That commitment was underlined by the launch of the country’s first national maternity strategy earlier this year. The programme for Government commits to implementing the strategy, and I look forward to leading the improvement of maternity services for women and their families over the lifetime of the strategy.

The House will be aware, however, that difficulties have emerged about the future governance of the new National Maternity Hospital on the Elm Park campus. Concerted efforts have been made to get the agreement of both hospitals to allow the project to proceed. Meetings were held last year with both hospitals at departmental and ministerial levels, and a facilitated dialogue was undertaken earlier this year. Unfortunately, that process did not achieve a solution.

Since taking office, I have met both hospitals separately and jointly and stressed to them the need to resolve the outstanding issues as a matter of urgency. I have also visited the National Maternity Hospital and I am acutely aware of the very significant infrastructural deficits there which are impacting on the ability of the hospital to deliver appropriate clinical services. I am heartened, therefore, that both hospitals have now committed to a further independent mediation process. I have appointed Mr. Kieran Mulvey as a mediator and the process has commenced. A number of meetings have already taken place. I want to acknowledge that a lot of work went on over the weekend. It is now important that we step back and let Mr. Mulvey and the two hospitals work on a solution outside the media glare. However, I want to assure the Senator and all other Senators that my overriding aim is to try to find a solution. I must stress that both hospitals are voluntary independent hospitals and, therefore, I cannot simply impose a solution. I intend to use my office to facilitate the finding of a solution. An unedifying spat between two of our great medical institutions does not serve patients well. It is important that the overriding objective of delivering property maternity services in appropriate accommodation for expectant mothers and their families is not lost in some bureaucratic row. It is frustrating, given that the project is fully funded and a plan is ready to go. We could lodge planning permission for the project within weeks if we find a solution.

Ultimately, both hospitals will have to reach an agreement on the outstanding governance issues. The process cannot go on forever. Agreement needs to be reached quickly. The hospitals are working constructively with Mr. Mulvey and I hope and expect to see the outcome of that work in the coming days. I remain hopeful that a solution can be found, and it is important that this happen as quickly as possible so this landmark project can proceed