herald

Wednesday 7 December 2016

Priscilla Lynch: Haven't we all heard this PR push for a new hospital before?

Pictured with a model of the new hospital from left to right are Minister for Health Leo Varadkar , Aoife Dillon, Clinical Education Facilitator, Temple Street Children’s Hospital ,Caoimhe Wade, Staff Nurse, Children’s Heart Centre, Our Lady’s Children Hospital Crumlin ,Amanda McCormack, Nurse, National Children’s Hospital Tallaght and Darragh Earry age 12 from the National Youth Advisory Committee
Pictured with a model of the new hospital from left to right are Minister for Health Leo Varadkar , Aoife Dillon, Clinical Education Facilitator, Temple Street Children’s Hospital ,Caoimhe Wade, Staff Nurse, Children’s Heart Centre, Our Lady’s Children Hospital Crumlin ,Amanda McCormack, Nurse, National Children’s Hospital Tallaght and Darragh Earry age 12 from the National Youth Advisory Committee

There was great fanfare over yesterday's lodging of a planning application for the new National Children's Hospital with An Bord Pleanála.

There were lots of nice graphics of what the (very) long-awaited facility will look like, with hotel-style, en-suite single rooms, a rooftop garden and grand descriptions of the "world class" care that will be provided.

The determined Minister for Health went on national radio and wrote for the national press, saying that huge preparation and consultation have gone into the plans, with a decision on planning for the St James' Hospital campus site due in "early 2016".

If all goes to plan Leo Varadkar says the hospital should open in 2019, though others have mentioned 2020 as a more realistic date for it to be fully operational.

But haven't we heard all this before?

There have been many previous announcements, with lots of similar nice graphics and generic pictures of smiling children, but after so many years talking about this wonderful hospital we still have nothing to show for all the grand plans and promises.

Back in 2011, after a lot of delays, there was similar enthusiasm when preparing the planning application for the facility at the Mater Hospital site but that all fell apart spectacularly when An Bord Pleanála turned down planning in 2012.

That fiasco cost €35m and despite all the previous preparation, we apparently needed to wait until now, over two and half years later, for planning permission to be lodged for the St James' site.

So while yesterday's announcement is a very important milestone, it is no guarantee of success. There are many hurdles yet to be overcome.

Not least of these is opposition from some local residents near St James' Hospital, while various children's campaigners worry about inadequate parking and traffic chaos at the south inner city location.

relocating

The latest plan for the hospital does have increased parking spaces for visitors of children staying overnight but there was no mention of those attending outpatient appointments, for whom public transport would be unsuitable while staff have also been told to use buses, trains or the Luas.

There are also continuing pleas from some campaigners to reconsider relocating the new hospital to the site of Connolly Hospital, Blanchardstown.

This location would be easier to access for those travelling from outside the capital and would have a maternity hospital when the Rotunda is relocated there, as announced this summer.

But given the constant delays that have beset this project already the Blanchardstown site is a non-runner, unless of course planning permission is refused again. With all the excitement about the shiny new Children's Hospital, it is easy to forget about our existing, less glamorous, children's hospitals in Crumlin, Temple Street and Tallaght.

There was no mention yesterday of the significant problems currently facing these facilities: of their long waiting lists for certain procedures, ongoing budget struggles and outdated and cramped wards and clinics.

Some of the €650m earmarked for the new hospital, not to mention the written off €35m from the Mater debacle, could have really helped here.

In addition, some people have been surprised at the various new upgrading projects at Crumlin Hospital in recent years, mostly paid for by fundraising, when there is a new hospital on the horizon.

However the fundraisers appear to have had better foresight than many about the never-ending delays to the new Children's Hospital, rightly believing the children of today are as deserving of top healthcare as the children of tomorrow.

The Children's Hospital is a very welcome, much-needed development.

However it is hard to get enthusiastic about a project that has been beset by so much controversy, constant delays and about which there have already been so many bombastic announcements with so little to actually show for them.

The Minister himself has admitted the project has had a "torturous history". Let's hope the country's children and healthcare staff get the happy ending they so deserve.

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