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Saturday 19 October 2019

Harris defends hospital work as costs hit €1.4bn

Health Minister Simon Harris. Picture: Arthur Carron.
Health Minister Simon Harris. Picture: Arthur Carron.

The opening of the National Children's Hospital's two satellite centres has been pushed back as it emerged that the cost of the long-delayed project has risen to nearly €1.4bn - up from €1bn in only 18 months.

The satellite centre in Connolly Hospital, which was due to be ready at the end of this year, will now not open until next summer.

The centre in Tallaght Hospital will not receive young patients until 2020, even though it was earmarked for early next year.

Setbacks

The opening of the main hospital, which is being built on the campus of St James's Hospital, is also being delayed, until 2022.

The latest setbacks come after it was revealed that Health Minister Simon Harris will tell the Cabinet the €1bn cost, set less than two years go, has risen to nearly €1.4bn.

Labour TD Alan Kelly acc-used Mr Harris of losing control of the hospital's budget.

He said he will be asking the Dail's spending watchdog, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), to examine the costs to date.

Mr Kelly claimed it is "unbelievable" that in over two years the projected cost has more than doubled, from €650m to as much as an estimated €1.4bn.

He raised concerns that the rising costs will put other capital projects in the health service at risk.

Meanwhile, Fianna Fail health spokesman Stephen Donnelly said: "It's just over 18 months since the minister told us that he expected the cost of the hospital to be approximately €1bn and, perhaps more importantly, that it would be delivered on time.

"A 40pc increase in costs since spring 2017 cannot be brushed aside.

"We need to know that the taxpayers and ultimately the service users are getting the best value for their money."

Mr Harris rejected the claim that the costs are out of control.

He said it was "no surprise" that after a recession there has been "hyperinflation" in construction costs.

"We do need to remember what we're doing here. After decades of talking about building a hospital that work is now under way and I'm very proud of that," he said.

The minister rejected suggestions that the rising costs were due to the way the project was being run, saying the people overseeing it are "hugely competent" and he has "every confidence" in their ability.

Experts say construction inflation is only one factor in pushing up the cost.

Building costs generally have increased by around 7.4pc this year, fuelled by labour shortages and other pressures.

The system of traditional procurement, which rewards the bidder who offers the lowest price, was not used in the case of the National Children's Hospital. A two-stage process is in place and the second is now being finalised and agreed.

It was claimed that "considerable progress" has been made on the project this year.

Enabling works on the main hospital site are complete and substructure works on the main site are "also now nearing completion".

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