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Sam Boal

Taoiseach can't say if anyone will be held to account over children's hospital overspend

It’s emerged the budget for the new hospital may cost more than €1.433 billion.

TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR can’t say if anyone will be sanctioned or held to account for the massive overspend on the new National Children’s Hospital.

It’s emerged the budget for the new hospital may run to more than €1.433 billion.

This represents a €450 million increase on what the hospital was projected to cost in April 2017.

To fill the funding gap, the Irish government has to take €100 million from the 2019 Health Capital Budget as well as central government expenditure. 

Speaking to reporters about the cost overruns, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar found it difficult to disguise his anger over the issue. 

“On the hospital, I have to choose my words carefully – I am very dissatisfied with what has happened in the past year. The costs have gone up from €1 billion only in the middle of 2017 to €1.4 billion now and the possibility it may go higher.

“I have an understanding of why that is the case, some of it is VAT, some of it is construction inflation, some of it is because it is going to be spec’d in a different way, from sprinklers to ceiling heights, so this is money that will need to be spent,” he said.

However, the Taoiseach said this project is unlike any other the government has planned for, and that a build board was legislated for and put in place to manage the project.

He said the costs “should have been anticipated”.

“The model to set up to build this hospital was different. It is not being built by the HSE or the OPW. It is not being done in the normal way. It is being done by a dedicated build board set up by legislation with very good people and very good staff who have experience in building big projects. So it is very disappointing that this has happened, quite frankly,” he added.

Held to account

Will anyone be held to account for letting the finances spiral out of control?

“I can’t say that at this time because we haven’t finished our inquiries or investigations. I’m sure the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) will want to look into it, and the health committee too, but certainly government does as well,” said the Taoiseach.

Varadkar outlined that the government will investigate the issue further in the new year, adding:

We are also going to need to make sure we don’t have further cost escalations. The one thing I would be particularly worried about beyond the build cost is the operational cost of running the hospital.
We need to make sure the operational costs of running the hospital is benchmarked with similar hospitals internationally.
We may end up building one of the most expensive children’s hospitals in the world. I can live with that if it turns out to be one of the best. But I don’t want to have a children’s hospital which is one of the most expensive to run.

Varadkar added that the health service is one of the government’s most challenging sectors in the year ahead.

Abortion services

Speaking about the roll out of abortion services in January, he said the service will be available in the new year, but acknowledged the full service will not be available in every part of the country.

“It will be available and phased in and stepped up as the year goes through,” he said. 

Next year, the Taoiseach said he intends to extend GP visit cards to more people.

“We have already extended them to carers this year and the next extension will be on income grounds,” he said, adding that there will be a €50 a week increase in the income limits for access to free GP healthcare.

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