The Gist: Whose National Maternity Hospital?

The reassurance statements given by the Government for years over the plans to pay for the building of a National Maternity Hospital, and then gift it to the nuns are wearing thin. This is the Gist.

The Gist: Whose National Maternity Hospital?

A shudder ran through the week, like the return of a familiar bad dream. The Government want to build a new National Maternity Hospital, the current one being too small and too old.

They have a problem, however. The last Government (which, Greens excepted, the same parties either supported or led) allowed a mad deal to be done with the nuns who own St Vincent’s hospital, gifting them the state funded asset of a national maternity hospital.

The deal took the form of a Nov 2016 agreement between the current private National Maternity Hospital in Holles St (permanent chairman of the board: The Archbishop of Dublin) and the private corporate body, St Vincent’s Healthcare Group ( then wholly owned by the Religious Sisters of Charity).

The Department of Health, long accustomed to fund the delivery of health services by private religious-ethos entities apparently hadn’t thought to get involved in those negotiations.

The Agreement was eventually published in April 2017 after the opposition to it by Dr. Peter Boylan (former Master of Holles St Hospital) became public. Its mediator argued unpersuasivly for the benefits of the deal.

The problem for the Government was that, on publication, it was now clear to anyone who read it that Dr. Boylan’s concerns around institutional and clinical independence were well-founded.

The Minister of Health at the time, Simon Harris, predicted that he’d have the legal issues on those topics solved by May 2017.  We have yet to glimpse the glittering form of this square circle.

The board of Holles Street Hospital forced Dr. Boylan out, and started an extraordinary PR campaign, demanding that the Government break ground on the hospital on the terms of that agreement before the end of 2018, citing inapplicable EU laws to support them.

This week, with the issue becoming live as an election approaches, FF and FG’s leader tortured words to express how much they wished the state owned and controlled the hospitals they paid for.

Conspicuous by their absence were any words suggesting how this might be achieved.

Things took a turn for the institutional after the Department of Health told politicians they’d tried to buy the land but then the nuns said nobody had ever asked them about purchase.

The Dept then couldn’t put their hands on any evidence of this effort, beyond- apparently- reading a declaration from St Vincent’s that they wouldn’t sell.

This approach to making wishes come true will be familiar to anyone who has tried to lose weight by just thinking about losing weight but then not done anything about it. And, predictably, both approaches have demonstrated an equal degree of success in achieving their aim.

Apparently, having tried both wishing and hoping for half a decade, the Department of Health has decided to strike off in the fresh new direction of doing.

“I am going to be engaging with the Sisters of Charity, with St Vincent’s, and my strong view is the State should own the site, and if anything can be done to that end, we will do it,”,

said the Minister for Health, apparently the idea of actually engaging in talks to buy the site having just occurred to those within the Government’s walls.

Not included in that statement is what the Government will do about this project if nothing ‘can be done to that end’. Will the State then shrug sadly and pay €800 million for a hospital it will neither control or own?

For years, the State has promised everyone they will be happy with the outcome of this misconceived project. It may need to finally face up to abandoning the possibility of pleasing everyone if it wants to do its duty by citizens.

Governance is not a mediation. And women and children’s healthcare should not be up for negotiation.