THE decision to grant permission for the new National Children’s Hospital at the site of St James’s Hospital has been strongly criticised by many families and campaign groups who believe it should be built at Connolly Hospital in Blanchardstown instead.
The news comes at the end of a year-long dispute over where the hospital should be built.
Opposition groups believe there were many advantages of developing the children’s hospital in Blanchardstown, such as the 145-acre site, easier access to those outside Dublin, extensive parking possibilities, and co-location with Connolly Adult Hospital and the new Rotunda Maternity Hospital. They also believed the hospital would be cheaper and faster to build at Connolly.
The founder of the Jack And Jill Children’s Foundation, Jonathan Irwin, described An Bord Pleanala’s recent decision as “extremely disappointing”. Irwin, who set up the charity with his wife following the tragic deaths of their son, Jack, and later another son, has been a long-outspoken critic of the State’s lack of support for such families.
He has led the campaign against relocating the new National Children’s Hospital at St James’ Hospital, preferring the James Connolly Hospital option.
Here, he writes for The Gazette about the recent decision.
TO ME, it’s a very sick joke. I’ve worked with children for 20 years and think I reflect how many families feel across Ireland at the moment.
We’ve got to accept the decision, but I just don’t understand why An Bord Pleanala delayed it for four months after the oral hearing if they didn’t accept that there were serious problems with constructing the children’s hospital at St James’s.
We can go to judicial review and find out exactly how the decision came about, but that would cost a quarter of million euro.
There is such anger around Ireland at the moment, and it is a real slap in the face for those living in rural Ireland.
Since setting up Jack And Jill, I have worked with more than 2,000 families in our 19 years of existence and, quite frankly, I’ve never heard one person come out in favour of locating the National Children’s Hospital in the St James’s Hospital campus.
That is why I was delighted when our board gave me the backing to bring together a professional team to make sure our side was heard at the oral hearing.
We were the David facing Goliath – with the taxpayers funding the latter – but I am happy that we had made a compelling case. We firmly believed that the wrong site had been chosen and we could not let the development happen.
Just think about what the authorities wanted. They want to foist a new children’s hospital on the country in a seriously restricted site. There is poor access; it is located in a highly-congested area of the city, and parking is totally inadequate. Add to that problems with taxis and you have a recipe for disaster.
The proponents for James’s say there is very good public transport to the area but, tell me – when do parents ever take a child in need of urgent medical care to a hospital by public transport?
I know it is often the case with seriously sick children that families would need to bring more than 20 pieces of equipment or medicines with them, so I don’t think people talking about public transport are living in the real world.
The whole debacle with the Mater and, subsequently, with St James’s is quite frankly off the wall.
Putting an adult hospital with a paediatric hospital is lunacy – imagine having 8,000 staff trying to get in and out of this traffic-challenged area. And that’s before a patient arrives there!
Then there’s the pollution. I can assure you I would not take an asthmatic child there. I wonder when Dr James Reilly presented his findings to the Cabinet a few years ago, did any one member of the Government ever walk the James’s site? I seriously doubt it.
James Connolly Hospital site, on the other hand, is on the M50 and that opens it up so much better not only to people around Dublin, but to those travelling up from the country as well.
Three–quarters of our children [that Jack And Jill have helped] have been located outside the M50, so it stands to reason to listen to what we’re saying. Yet not once was even one family of those 2,000 children interviewed to get a personal understanding of what parents have to go through in such situations.
There is unlimited parking and plenty of room at Connolly for expansion.
It’s also on a 140-acre site, and we should not disregard the holistic benefits of being able to look out and see green fields and trees. It’s certainly more conductive to feeling healthier and a lot better than being ensconced in the seventh-most congested city in Europe.
If you even consider any type of forward planning, how can St James’s be considered in terms of [what may be needed] 10 years ahead, never mind 100 years?
You need to have a maternity hospital beside a children’s hospital. This is the National Children’s Hospital we are talking about, and Tallaght, Temple St and Crumlin [children’s facilities] will all be in there.The satellite hospitals will close and there will be only one – which makes it imperative that it has all the facilities needed for access and parking.
The more I think of it, the more I think that there is no reason for it to be there at all.
The building itself is very good, but the location is a disaster, and far too costly. The original budget for it was €485 million and it’s now at €750 million – and that’s without the hospital being fitted out.
Initially, we had to fight to get our voices heard. I wasn’t invited to Farmleigh for the first parents’ forum.
In fact, many people were turned away that day, but we managed to get in and make our presence felt after that.
I am delighted that such people as New Children’s Hospital Alliance spokesman Finn Breathnach said there was no evidence co-locating a children’s hospital with an adult hospital resulted in better clinical outcomes for children.
Support has grown with political motions and signatures collected, and it will be a great day if the oral hearing agrees with the logic of what we have put forward.
Acting Minister for Health Leo Varadkar meanwhile described the announcement as “a great day for all the children of Ireland”.
Lorcan Birthistle, the chief executive of St James’s Hospital Lorcan Birthistle said: “We are excited at the opportunity this decision presents to further develop world-class services on our campus and we look forward to the development of The Coombe Hospital maternity and women’s health services on campus in the future.”
Founder, The Jack And Jill Foundation