By Gráinne Ní Aodha, PA
The relocation of the National Maternity Hospital (NMH) from Holles Street to the grounds of St Vincent’s Hospital in Dublin has been approved by Cabinet.
The Government moved to clarify the phrase “clinically appropriate” in a memo which was approved by ministers this morning, according to The Irish Times.
The Government’s plan proposes to co-locate the new hospital at St Vincent’s Elm Park campus and to lease the land from St Vincent’s for 299 years at €10 per year, which the Government argues effectively amounts to ownership.
In a statement from the Department of Health, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly confirmed the news, adding the legal framework has also been approved by the HSE board and the boards of the NMH and St Vincent's Healthcare Group.
Mr Donnelly said it was "an important milestone" for maternity services in Ireland, describing the new hospital as a "critical piece of health infrastructure that will ensure women and infants are cared for in a state-of-the-art hospital that will help our clinicians deliver improved outcomes".
The department said the legal framework for the hospital addresses both the ownership and governance of the new hospital, ensuring "all legally permissible services will be available", preventing "any influence, religious or otherwise" in the operation of the hospital, and safeguarding the State's investment in the hospital.
Commenting on concerns that the ownership of the land by a religious order rather than the State could impact the provision of services at the new NMH, Mr Donnelly said he was "absolutely satisfied" this would not be the case, reiterating that "all lawfully permissible services will be provided in the new NMH, as they are in the current NMH".
Earlier, Minister for Transport and Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said there had been clarity since Cabinet last considered the proposal for the co-location with St Vincent’s.
“I think there has been a lot of clarification in the last two weeks, and I think that was a good thing, around that issue [of] what is clinically appropriate,” he said.
“It was clear at all times this was led by medics, often the same female medics who led out in the Repeal campaign, saying, ‘This is the best approach’.
“So I, like a lot of other people, listened to them.”
The NMH is currently in a 130-year-old building at Holles Street in Dublin city centre, which has been branded not fit for purpose.
Speaking on his way into Cabinet on Tuesday morning prior to the approval, Mr Donnelly said it has become clear in the past two weeks that the new NMH will be a voluntary, “fully secular”, public hospital.
“The State will own the hospital, the State will own the land for the next 300 years,” he said.
There was some opposition to the plans when Mr Donnelly last brought the proposed co-location plan to Cabinet two weeks ago, with approval delayed to allow for the publication of documents outlining the ownership structure in order to alleviate concerns.
Mr Donnelly, legal and medical experts, critics of the co-location plan and representatives of the St Vincent’s Healthcare Group have also appeared before the Oireachtas Health Committee in the past fortnight to discuss the proposal.
Minister for Tourism Catherine Martin was among the Cabinet ministers who first raised concerns.
On Friday, Ms Martin gave her backing to the plan, saying that after receiving written assurances and clarifications, she now believes “the safeguards and protections are there to protect services for women”.
Following confirmation of Cabinet's approval, St Vincent's Healthcare Group (SVHG) welcomed the decision, calling it a "landmark day".
"The relocation of the National Maternity Hospital (NMH) to the Elm Park healthcare campus is a key part of the Government’s maternity strategy," chair of SVHG, James Menton said.
"We are proud to be a partner and play our part in what will be, when complete, a complete transformation of maternity and neo-natal care not only in Dublin but also as a national care centre."