Governor of Maternity Hospital says Health Minister 'not qualified' to make guarantees

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has explained that the decision to defer the final approval of plans for the new National Maternity Hospital was out of respect for the Oireachtas Committee and in an attempt to be open and transparent.
Governor of Maternity Hospital says Health Minister 'not qualified' to make guarantees

Vivienne Clarke

Updated at 12:23

The former master of the National Maternity Hospital says the Health Minister "is not qualified" to make promises about care at the new facility.

Cabinet have pushed out making a decision on relocating the hospital to St Vincent's Campus, as they say further detail on the governance of the hospital is needed.

Ministers Stephen Donnelly and Simon Harris have insisted this morning the hospital will be entirely independent from a catholic ethos and all reproductive and abortion care will be provided there.

Governor of the National Maternity Hospital, Peter Boylan, says they cannot make that guarantee: "No Minister for Health can guarantee that anything can happen in any individual hospital."

"The Minister could not even get maternity units to agree to let their partners in when they were giving birth.

Final approval

Mr Boylan said it is "completely inappropriate" that a Minister for Health should determine what particular clinical events will take place in a hospital,

It comes as the Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly explained the decision to defer the final approval of plans for the new National Maternity Hospital was out of respect for the Oireachtas Committee and in an attempt to be open and transparent.

Speaking on RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland, Mr Donnelly said that the Oireachtas Committee on Health had asked for the details of the agreement before it was signed, which he was doing.

The Minister said it was not wrong for Ministerial colleagues to express concern given the uneasy history of women’s reproductive health and the Church. However, he cautioned “we can’t lose sight of how important this is”.

The new National Maternity Hospital had been in the pipeline for nine years, in the meantime women in Holles Street hospital were in 14 bed wards and had to queue for toilets and bathrooms while in labour, he said.

'Genuine concerns'

There had been “a very positive discussion” on the issue at Cabinet where a number of Ministers had expressed “genuine concerns”.

Mr Donnelly said that the new hospital would be fully operationally independent, clinically independent and would provide all services legally permitted in the country including termination, tubal ligation, gender reassignment and reproductive assistance.

The Cabinet had agreed that due to concerns about transparency, the way to proceed would be to note the agreement and then release to the public the documentation.

All services would be provided at the new hospital, he repeated, this was guaranteed by the operating licence. People wanted reassurance that there would be no religious influence, he said. There would be no representative of the religious order on the board of the new hospital.

Vatican had nothing to do with the transfer.

The transfer of the land from the order to the State had been completed last week, he said. When asked about the opinion of the Vatican on the transfer, the Minister said that the "Vatican had nothing to do with the transfer".

The land was now under a 299-year lease. It did not matter who owned the land, said Mr Donnelly, it was more important who owns and runs the hospital. Under the Mulvey Agreement of 2016 there was a legal structure involving two voluntary hospitals and the State to create a world class health campus.

“It’s a complex structure, that’s why we wanted to publish the documentation.”

The new maternity hospital building will be owned by the State on land owned by one of the voluntary hospitals. The National Maternity Hospital is a voluntary hospital, he added.

The Minister acknowledged that the religious order had not wanted to sell or donate the lands to the State when asked to do so. But any conversation about who owned the land was a red herring, he said.

The State did not own the land under other voluntary hospitals in the country, said Mr Donnelly. He said he could guarantee “yes, one hundred per cent” that services such as tubal ligation by choice, assisted reproduction, “every service” would be available at the new National Maternity Hospital which will be fully independent and obliged to provide them under their licence.“If, for whatever reason, they are not doing that, the Minister for Health can directly intervene to ensure that all services are provided. I can give an absolute, rock solid guarantee (that all services will be provided)."This project was the most important involving health care in the history of the State, he said.

'The right move'

Former Minister for Health Simon Harris has said that he believed the decision to locate the new National Maternity Hospital at St Vincent’s was “the right move”.

Mr Harris told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland that he had always believed that once clinical independence was prioritised “that was the important thing”.

“I believe this is the right decision.”

However, he said it was important to listen to “the legitimate questions”.

Mr Harris said that Cabinet meetings were private when asked if concerns had been raised by women Ministers. The debate had not been “gendered” he said.

“This is about getting it right, but there’s no harm answering the questions that are being asked.”

The Attorney General had provided “significant assurances” about safeguards to ensure the clinical independence of the new hospital, he added.

There was an urgent need to build a state of the art maternity hospital.

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