Speech by Minister for Health, Leo Varadkar at the Announcement of the appointment of the design team for the new children’s hospital,

Speech by Minister for Health, Leo Varadkar at the Announcement of the appointment of the design team for the new children’s hospital,

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, representatives of the media.

Ten years after the 1916 Rising, in 1926, the first official life tables were compiled in this country, and the average life expectancy was estimated to be 57 years.  By the time I was born in 1979 it had risen to 72.  It is now 81, higher than the European average, and is rising all the time. 

What this means is that many of the children born this year – and over the next ten years – will have a great chance of seeing what life is like in the 22nd century.  Some will even live long enough to witness the 200th anniversary of the Rising and Statehood. For most of us, this is unimaginable, but they will not need to imagine it, they will be able to see it for themselves.  What was once within the realms of science fiction is now within reach.  And we are helping to shape that future here today.

We have it in our power to make sure that the children of Ireland of tomorrow have the very best chance starting out in life, and it starts here with the appointment of the design team for the new Children’s Hospital.  It is a great privilege to be here to celebrate this milestone with so many of the people who have helped make it possible. 

Our thanks are due to the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board which has carried out a rigorous procurement process to get the best possible team in place to bring us from concept to design, and from vision to plans.  I met recently for the first time with the Board’s Chair, Mr Tom Costello.  Tom is a chartered engineer, and has been responsible for some of the largest and most significant projects built in Ireland.  I was immediately struck by his commitment to delivering this project, and to making it a success.  Make no mistake, this is a huge project.  It is a huge project for the children who will benefit from it, and their families, but it also huge in its scale and complexity. 

Working alongside Tom there is a board of people who bring invaluable knowledge and expertise.  These are people with the necessary understanding and appreciation of issues of planning, procurement and of course engineering and architectural skills – as well as the clinical and service issues.

As you know, we are here today to talk about the building project. Nevertheless, there is another hugely important dimension to this project – the bringing together of three existing hospitals, all with long and proud traditions.

And so I am delighted that the three hospitals – The National Children’s Hospital at Tallaght, the Children’s University Hospital, Temple Street, and Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital, Crumlin – are already working together as part of the new children’s hospital group.  I know they want to become a single hospital. And I want to commend them not just for all they do in paediatric care today, but for their commitment to the future and for coming together to forge a new identity and a new tradition. 

I know that Jim Browne, as chair of the Children’s Hospital Group and Eilish Hardiman, as its CEO, are working closely with the chairs and representatives of the three hospitals – Michael Scanlan, Sean Sheehan and Frank Magee – and of course with the three CEOs –  Lorcan Birthistle, Mona Baker and David Slevin. They are all here today. St James’s Hospital is of course a very important partner in this project and Derry Shanley, Chairman of St James’s, and Brian Fitzgerald, the CEO, are here today also.


Earlier this morning I met with the Youth Advisory Council.  Your insight in this process has been invaluable, and it has also been inspiring.  It is important that we work with young people who, unfortunately, have a lot of experience of being in hospital, and you have been great contributors to this process.  I hope you will continue to do so.  Although you will be adults before the new hospital is completed, you will have left a legacy that will be lasting.  Things will be better for the next generation of children and young adults because of your contribution, and that is something I hope you and your families are proud of – I know I am. 

This new children’s hospital will be the regional hospital for children from the Greater Dublin Area – it will also be the national hospital for children who need specialist tertiary care. By having a single hospital that centralises that kind of care and expertise, and links with adult specialists where necessary, we can ensure better care.  Very simply, the more you see of these conditions as a clinician, the better you are at treating them.  At the same time, we want to ensure that when children don’t need to be in hospital, they won’t be. Making sure that children get the right care, in the right place, at the right time, is the aim of the National Clinical Programme in Paediatrics and Neonatology.  Professor Alf Nicholson and Professor John Murphy are leading this and finalising a national model of care for paediatrics and neonatology which can deliver on this.  Within this model, the national children’s hospital will be at the apex of a network with specialist clinicians able to outreach around the country.

In Government. we have high ambitions for this project, and we are right to be ambitious.  Most of you will be well aware of what is envisaged for the new hospital in terms of facilities – for instance, for the first time all-in-patient accommodation will be in single en suite rooms. This is critically important for infection control but also for privacy and dignity.  Equally there will be advanced diagnostic equipment and facilities – we will have several hybrid theatres to allow the teams to carry out imaging during surgery.  We will have outpatient services organised in what are called clinical clusters.  This means we will have clinicians with different but related specialties physically close to each other, which is better for patients and more efficient for staff.

The design team is now in place to turn this vision into reality.  This is the most exciting phase as we go from the concept and procurement stages into the next stage, where we will have the design team actually in place and working on plans.  The design team will continue to engage with everyone this affects – children, young people and their families, staff, and all the groups that represent users.   Some who have been involved in the project all along might be frustrated that it has taken this long to get here.   But we have made sure we have got the right decision, and we can now act with full confidence for the future.  By sharing your input and insights you have helped shape the design process, and I hope you will continue to engage the way you have done.

In 1916 the site of the new Children’s Hospital was a site of battle.  Fighting raged around it during Easter week, and there were high casualties on all sides.  Civilians were caught in the crossfire, and the first female victim of the Rising was Nurse Margaretta Keogh who was trying to tend to the wounded.  A future Taoiseach, and a future leader of my party, Fine Gael – W.T. Cosgrave – played a key role in the fighting and helped co-ordinate the defence of the South Dublin Union.  Cathal Brugha, the second-in-command on the rebel side was shot twenty-five times during the week, five cutting through arteries, but he kept going. 

After the rebellion he was released because the medical experts believed he would not survive.  And so it is appropriate that as we head towards the centenary of the 1916 Rising we recall the sacrifice of all those who fought and died during that time with a monument to the living.   Namely, a new Children’s Hospital on the site of one of the battlefields of that rising, under construction in good time for the centenary commemoration.

We need this hospital.  Children, young people and their parents need this hospital.

Today marks another major milestone for the New Children’s Hospital. It’s now full steam ahead.  I expect the design team to finish its work in a matter of months with a view to securing planning permission and beginning site clearance and enabling works next year both at St James’s and in Tallaght and Blanchardstown.  Ireland’s children deserve a world class hospital. We’ve been promising it, and talking about it for far too long.  Let’s get building. Thank you.