herald

Saturday 19 October 2019

Budget-busting new Children's Hospital has spent €1m on PR

Building work at the site of the new National Children’s Hospital.
Building work at the site of the new National Children’s Hospital.

More than €1m has been spent on public relations for the controversial new National Children's Hospital, the Dail's spending watchdog has been told.

The sums involved were criticised as "unacceptable" by Independent TD Catherine Connolly.

The €1.7bn project was at the centre of a storm over its spiralling costs earlier this year and the Government has sustained heavy criticism on the issue.

The Dail's Public Accounts Committee (PAC) was told that €248,000 of the more than €1m costs was spent by the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board (NPHDB) up to July this year.

Unacceptable

The details of the spending with Q4PR dating back to 2015 were provided to TDs by the NPHDB.

Independent TD Catherine Connolly
Independent TD Catherine Connolly

"Honestly, I don't know why they need to spend that much money on consultancy services for communications," said Ms Connolly.

"For the record, I think it's unacceptable that that much money has been spent.

"I don't think it's good value for money. I don't think it's necessary."

PAC chairman Sean Fleming said issues relating to the Children's Hospital "won't be going away".

Ms Connolly added: "The story of a new hospital is a story sufficient in itself. Why we would need to sell I don't know."

Mr Fleming later revealed details of separate spending by the HSE of more than €11m on consultancy firms in relation to the Children's Hospital last year. This included €3.6m on an ICT digital hospital project and another €3.5m on clinical and operational support.

Mr Fleming said the PAC would be seeking additional information from the HSE on this spending.

The NPHDB last night defended the PR costs. In a statement, it said: "The new Children's Hospital is the most complex construction project under way in Ireland.

"Communicating with all stakeholders throughout the planning and now the construction phase is essential."

It said this happens through media relations and social media, as well as events, newsletters for 4,000 nearby residents, meetings, shopping centre information days and drop-in days for members of the local community.

Soared

It said there was ongoing engagement with local and national representatives, Department of Health and HSE staff, local residents, local community organisations and businesses, and updates for Children's Health Ireland staff.

The NPHDB also pointed to careers days for pupils in local primary and secondary schools and activities such as a Dublin 8 youth summer arts project.

The new National Children's Hospital is due to open beside St James's Hospital in the south city in 2023.

Construction costs have soared by €450m to €1.4bn, and another €300m is to be spent on equipping the new hospital.

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