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Friday, September 22, 2023

Government expects children’s hospital to be delivered next year ‘as planned’

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has said he expects the National Children’s Hospital to be delivered next year as planned, and maintained the Government’s position to not reveal its estimated cost.

The hospital is due to be completed in March 2024, with plans for it to open in the second half of next year.

It comes after it was revealed in the HSE’s Capital Plan for 2023 that €324 million has been allocated to the new children’s hospital this year, based on the latest figures.

It also said that “fluctuation in expenditure” on the hospital “will have a significant impact” on the remainder of its capital programme.

Mr Donnelly said other projects would not be delayed as a result of the spiralling costs and delays in building the children’s hospital.

“I am absolutely determined that we will not be putting any other projects at risk,” he said.

The plan to build a “state-of-the-art” paediatric hospital has been mired in controversy over where it would be built, how much it would cost and the repeated delays to when it would open.

The cost of building the hospital has risen from hundreds of millions of euros 10 years ago to €1.4 billion approved by the government in 2018.

Outstanding claims from the developers of the hospital have been cited by the Government as a reason why it has not divulged the latest estimated costs for the hospital.

Mr Donnelly said on Tuesday that the Government cannot release the estimate figures it has on the hospital’s costs due to ongoing negotiations with the contractor.

The minister said it has been “known for some time” that the total cost would be “in excess” of €1.4 billion, but the total costs had not been finalised as negotiations were continuing.

“And whilst we may have some estimates, there is a negotiation going on between the NPHDB (National Paediatric Hospital Development Board) and between the contractor on very large sums of money,” he said.

“And so what the state is not doing is putting out any figures at the moment because we don’t want to prejudice those negotiations.

“So whilst we may have estimates on the total cost, it would not be in the interest of the State at the moment to provide them.

“It’s not that we know because the negotiations are ongoing and then there’s adjudication mechanisms, and there’s escalation mechanisms. So nobody knows where that negotiation is going to end up, but will it be higher than the €1.4 billion? Yes, of course it will.”

Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy said the Public Accounts Committee had received correspondence that indicated the NPHDB had expected to get a substantial completion programme in February, which has not yet been provided.

She said this indicated that the project would not be completed by March next year.

“Without that, the only thing you could conclude is that it’s behind,” Ms Murphy said.

“The longer this goes, the more expensive this hospital is going to be.

“We’re not going to know for years how much this hospital is going to cost because there are some very large amounts of the almost 600 million in claims that will end up in the courts.”

She said that clarity was needed about what “pressure” is being applied from Government and State agencies to ensure that the hospital will be delivered on time.

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The Dáil heard in December that floors, walls, ceilings and joinery have been finished in the most advanced areas of the hospital, and that work on the emergency department, critical care and therapy areas is progressing “at pace”.

Mr Donnelly said on Tuesday: “What the development board is trying to do is get this hospital delivered to the new agreed time, which is next year from the contractor.

“And we absolutely expect the contractor to meet those obligations while trying to manage the cost, obviously.”

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