National Children’s Hospital may not open until 2025, warns expertMike Finnerty 30 Aug 2023
Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy says the Government has “lost control” over the National Children’s Hospital, as a leading medical professional warned that the first patient would not be admitted to the hospital until 2025 and the project will come in well above its original pricetag.
Murphy was speaking after Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly appeared on RTÉ Radio One and was unable to provide figures on the final cost of the long-delayed National Children’s Hospital and conceded that the May 2024 competition date will not be met.
“The Minister for Health’s inability to provide a revised completion date or estimate of final costs for the new National Children’s Hospital shows that the Government has lost control of the project,” said Murphy.
“Minister Donnelly’s comments were deeply troubling. While conceding that the latest completion date of May 2024 will not be met, he refused to reveal the revised handover deadline put forward by the developer. This suggests there has been a further drift in the work schedule that far exceeds our worst expectations.”
“Given that BAM, the company in charge of the project, have submitted more than 2,000 claims totaling €760 million, it is clear that the final cost of the hospital is going to come in well above the Government’s figure of €1.4 billion,” she said.
“The Minister’s insistence that the development is 90% complete is also astonishing given recent claims by the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board (NPHDB) that just 27 out of 3,000 rooms are finished.”
“With costs expected to soar above the €2 billion mark, this will end up being the world’s most expensive hospital. It beggars belief that the Minister is unable to provide even minimal clarity about what is the biggest capital project in the history of the health service.”
Murphy’s concerns were shared by Dr. Paul Davis, assistant professor at Dublin City University, who told Claire Byrne that there was not a completed design for the building when the project went to tender.
“Given that we didn’t have a design in the first place when we actually went out to contract, there were going to be changes to the design. So what we have is €760 million of claims based on the design that wasn’t there.”
It was noted by Dr. Davis that the original agreement was that additional costs would be covered to 7% above inflation, but that inflation had been in excess of 20% on a number of occasions since the project began.
“Because they didn’t have the design there for any changes that were being made as they went along, they were actually having to pay for those as well. So it was an open cheque book, unfortunately.”
Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine, both given as reasons for delays and escalating costs by the Minster, there were already excess claims and the design had come under question as early as 2019, added Dr. Davis.
“The design was already coming under question in 2019, with PriceWaterhouseCoopers talking about the project management of the hospital board and the lack of project management skills and the lack of project management ability.”
Dr. Davies said the National Children’s Hospital was “an outlier” globally in terms of cost and was now one of the most expensive buildings in the world.
“Given it’s a hospital, which will be a fairly standard process because many hospitals are built around the world, it’s very much an outlier in the way that we project managed it and the way that we’ve actually gone out to tender for it.”
“We literally went into the marketplace without a final design and without a final budget in place. So the outlier being that we handed over a design process to a group of people.”
Dr Davis questioned if it was “politically expedient” that there wasn’t a completion date, given the persistent speculation of a general election possibly being held in the Autumn of 2024.
“There’s still a further probably 18 months before we actually see the first child admitted at this stage. Had it been within a couple of months, then we probably would have expected the board to have given an opening date. But given that it probably is not within a couple of months of May next year, nobody really wants to announce the date, I suspect, because there’s an election due next year,” he noted.
Dr. Davis asserted that the Minister for Health was “glib” after saying that the hospital was 90% complete, saying “we need more detail on this. I think it’s the responsibility of the board to publish a much more comprehensive plan of when they believe it’s going to be finished and more importantly, when are we going to see the first children being treated?”