Gynaecologist urges new NMH site be sold to the State

“The Sisters of Charity either sell the land to the State — and that’s infinitely the preferred option — or else there is a very transparent, clear, unambiguous, and straightforward, simple statement that holds up to legal scrutiny." 
Gynaecologist urges new NMH site be sold to the State

Last month, campaigners delivered 10,000 signatures on a petition calling for a public and secular National Maternity Hospital to An Taoiseach Micheál Martin’s Cork office. Picture: Mostafa Darwish.

A LEADING obstetrician and gynaecologist has said the State needs to either purchase the planned site of the National Maternity Hospital (NMH) or find an alternative site.

Professor Louise Kenny, who has worked as a professor of maternal and foetal health at University College Cork, and as a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist at Cork University Maternity Hospital, made her remarks as controversy continued over the Government’s planned relocation of the NMH to land owned by the Sisters of Charity religious order.

Prof Kenny, who is executive pro-vice-chancellor of the Faculty of Health and Life Sciences at the University of Liverpool, told The Echo she believed that the best option for the NMH would be for it to built on publicly owned land.

The Government’s plan to relocate the NMH to Elm Park alongside St Vincent’s Hospital, on a site owned by an entity associated with the Sisters of Charity, has been controversial for some time, with opposition parties expressing concern about potential religious influence upon the future provision of elements of women’s healthcare including abortion, IVF, tubal ligation, and gender-affirming surgery.

A Cork GP has said that the relocation of the National Maternity Hospital (NMH) to land owned by the Sisters of Charity could risk reducing abortion access in Ireland.

The former president of the Irish College of General Practitioners (ICGP) and Covid-19 adviser with the ICGP Dr Mary Favier said that “'substantive and appropriate concerns” had been raised in relation to a “huge transfer of state assets”.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin this week said that while he accepted there were “legitimate” concerns about the provision of healthcare services, these issues had been “comprehensively guaranteed in the constitution of the new hospital”, and he said the planned 299-year lease on the site effectively amounted to “public ownership”.

The lease will give the State a proprietary interest in the land, with the HSE leasing the site for the hospital from St Vincent’s and owning the hospital itself.

Under the constitution of the new hospital, the health minister will not have day-to-day involvement but will have a so-called golden share in the company, allowing intervention to direct the board to ensure all maternity, gynaecological, or neonatal care is provided if it proves necessary.

Prof Kenny, who was a prominent campaigner for the repeal of the Eighth Amendment, said she had not heard an adequate explanation as to why the Sisters of Charity would not sell the land to the State.

She said she sympathised with clinicians currently working in what she described as “Dickensian” conditions in Dublin’s three maternity hospitals, and knew their priority was to get to a new 21st-century facility as soon as possible.

She also said she understood that not progressing with the current agreement delay the new NMH, possibly by a lengthy period, but she felt one of two things needed to occur.

“The Sisters of Charity either sell the land to the State — and that’s infinitely the preferred option — or else there is a very transparent, clear, unambiguous, and straightforward, simple statement that holds up to legal scrutiny, and that is explicit in allowing the full services allowed under the law now and as allowed under the law in future on that site,” said Prof Kenny.

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