herald

Sunday 17 December 2017

What age will country's kids be when their new hospital opens?

In the last couple of days we have finally learned more about the design of the long- awaited new National Children's Hospital.

The project brief approved by the HSE confirms the new €650 million hospital will contain 384 in-patient beds, including 62 critical care beds, all in single en-suite rooms as well as 85 day care beds and top class theatres, examination rooms and other facilities.

This all sounds great and is just what we need to replace the outdated and unfit for purpose paediatric facilities we currently have.

On the negative side, the announcement also confirmed that the projected opening date for the new hospital has slid back yet again.

We are now informed that planning permission will only be sought next spring. That's assuming there are no more delays, which there always are in major Irish healthcare projects such as this.

Transition of services to the new hospital is expected to commence at the end of 2018. As the hospital will open on a phased basis it will be well into 2019 and perhaps even later before this much lauded facility is finally fully functioning.

The satellite centres of the new children's hospital, to be based at Tallaght and James Connolly Memorial Hospitals, are due to be up and running by mid-2016, though frankly it is hard to be convinced of that timeframe.

Of course the new children's hospital was originally supposed to be built on the site of the Mater Hospital, with an opening date of 2016.

collapsed

The plans were well advanced and at least €35 million was spent before An Bord Pleanála withdrew planning permission and the whole scheme collapsed.

Then followed another turf war over with many unhappy with the choice of St James's (citing traffic and other concerns) but now everyone is on board it seems.

However the project to build the new hospital must be considered in the wider context.

This year the HSE faces a €500m overrun due to the pressure on services and the savings it was asked to make.

Just last week Health Minister James Reilly revealed that the HSE's overspent by €158m in the first five months of this year.

This is leading to waiting lists creeping up again - including those at the existing children's hospitals.

The latest figures show that the number of children waiting over the five month target for an inpatient or day care procedure has increased by around 40pc in the first four months of the year.

In total there were 930 children waiting more than five months.

waiting

Outpatient waiting list times are even worse. At Temple Street more than 660 children are waiting over a year, out of a total 10,000 on that hospital's waiting lists.

At Crumlin almost 1,300 children are waiting a year or longer out of a total waiting list of 12,690.

Meanwhile, Temple Street has warned the HSE it is "simply not possible" to make the demanded 2014 savings of €2.6m without "significant and unpalatable" service cuts.

Crumlin has similar issues and has seen its genetic testing services cut to the bone, despite rising demand.

In addition, Crumlin has opened a number of new facilities in recent years, the funding for which it has raised itself, as it said its children cannot wait for the new hospital - they need these services now.

So yes, the shiny new, children's hospital is very much needed but the Government should also be concerned about supporting the current paediatric services and children who need care now.

What age will these children be when we finally see the smiling photo op, as our political masters open the new facility? Indeed what age will we be?

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