It is tempting to sigh and move on when you read about the new national children’s hospital fiasco – brushing it off as yet another mistake by an incompetent government in a country that rarely gets things right. In truth it is much worse. The scale of the wastage and ineptitude goes above and beyond what we’ve come to expect.
The project was described as a ‘100 year hospital,’ in the sense that it would meet Ireland’s needs in terms of child healthcare for an entire century. This was probably an exaggeration for the sake of good public relations, in reality it was perhaps intended to cover us for the next few decades.
Except it won’t.
In fact, by the time it opens, it will already be outdated and inadequate for the nation’s needs. It is supposed to increase the country’s hospital beds by around 9%, however in the years it takes to complete the facility, the population is expected to have grown by up to 15%.
Then there’s the cost. It was originally planned to cost in the region of €650 million, yet somehow this has skyrocketed to an estimated €2 billion. That would make it one of the most expensive hospitals ever built in human history. The world’s best and newest hospitals, massive state-of-the-art facilities such as Sweden’s Karolinska Solna are the only one’s with a heftier pricetag.
It is even worse in cost-per-bed terms. In wealthy developed countries like ourselves, new hospitals tend to come in at between €1 million to a maximum of €2 million per bed. Our new national children’s hospital is expected to be between €3.8-4.3 million per bed. There is no way to describe that other than catastrophic overspending.
Naturally an independent investigation into this disaster has been commissioned. The global consultancy firm PwC will conduct it. The report will seek to establish the “sequence of events” that led to the overspend, but bizarrely, will “stop short of determining culpability at the individual level.”
In essence, the investigation has been specifically designed to avoid blaming anyone. One of the greatest disasters of Irish bureaucracy – and we will never find out why it happened. At least if they get their way.
Health Minister Simon Harris said: “Let me be very clear – there will be accountability in relation to this.” But how can there be accountability if no one is held accountable for the mistake? In any serious country that holds its government to standards, the department would be gutted for such an error and high-level resignations would be expected – maybe even the Minister’s.
The project was flawed from the start in truth. The selection of the site at James’s Hospital in the city centre was an extremely poor decision. It is hard pressed for space and located in a busy urban area with traffic and poor transport links. Even if the new hospital is built, there will be almost no space for future expansion.
The government was offered a 90-acre site outside the M50, and yet chose a site a tenth of that size in the city centre. The building of major hospitals in city centres is something that is no longer practiced internationally. Instead, intelligent countries build health campuses in large undeveloped spaces with plenty of options for future expansion.
On such a site as the one the government refused, they would have been able not only to build the new children’s hospital, but also relocate the national maternity hospital and other facilities that are planned for the long-term.
It is a classic example of the lack of future-proofing and pure incompetence of successive Irish governments. As always, they attempted to take the quick and easy route by locating it at James’s instead of planning for the future health needs of the Irish nation.
We are faced with a very clear ‘stop, go back’ moment. Despite the massive expected overspend and the poor suitability of the site, the government continues to treat this project as a definite, something that cannot be stopped.
Right now all we have is a hole in the ground in the city centre. We have every opportunity to figure out why this went wrong, cancel the project, and design an infinitely better one.
But to do that, the government would have to accept that they made a ridiculous mistake, and they simply aren’t willing to do that. They are far too concerned with their own reputations and careers to such a thing. It is not in their nature to accept blame.
If it wasn’t so serious, it’d be laughable.