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Health Minister Stephen Donnelly at sod turning to mark construction at the site of the Ronald McDonald House at the children's hospital Alamy Stock Photo

Health Minister ‘fully expects’ long-delayed children’s hospital to be completed this year

The €2.2 billion hospital is projected to start treating children next year.

HEALTH MINISTER STEPHEN Donnelly has said he “fully expects” completion of the long-delayed new children’s hospital this year.

Donnelly said the main contractor has told the project’s development board that it will hand over the multibillion-euro hospital in the last three months of 2024.

Speaking today, the Health Minister said: “I fully expect the contractor to make good on their word, make good on their promises, and have that ready.

“We can see the impact that this hospital is going to have. What I want, what we all want is children to be treated in this hospital next year.”

The Government has repeatedly defended the overspend at the hospital as the total bill soared past €2.2 billion, following a half-a-billion top-up in February.

The latest price tag for the project, which had an initial estimated cost of €650 million in 2014, includes millions of euro for an expected payout to contractor BAM over ongoing disputes, as well as other contingency funding.

The Government’s new budget is designed to cover the build of the city-centre hospital and two satellite centres at Tallaght and Connolly, as well as hundreds of millions of euro for technology and the transitioning out of older hospitals.

The Department of Health has defended the project by saying the finished building will be “state-of-the-art” and provide 300 individual, inpatient, en-suite rooms – each with its own place for a parent/guardian to sleep.

In addition, it will double the current number of critical care beds to 60, and have 93 day beds and 20 dedicated, en-suite mental health (CAMHS) beds.

Theatre capacity will be expanded to 22 theatres and procedure rooms. The building will accommodate five MRIs and 110 outpatient rooms.

The building, billed as the best children’s hospital in the world, is said to be more than 90% complete with the fitout of rooms and the installation of medical equipment under way.

Amid the spiralling costs, the main contractor has made claims worth an approximate total of €770 million over the project.

Donnelly said only a small percentage of claims had been awarded to BAM.

Earlier in the year, he said an adjudicator had made decisions on about €645 million of the claims and had awarded 2.7% in favour of the contractor.

Donnelly said the deadline for the handover of the hospital from the contractor is “Q4 of this year”.

“I’m not going to get hung up on whether it is this week in October or this week in November, I want to be very clear we want and must get full control of this hospital,” he said.

It is expected that there will then be a six-month commissioning period which, among other things, will involve training on the hospital’s new electronic record system.

Donnelly was speaking after turning the sod on an adjacent family accommodation centre designed to support the relatives of the hospital’s future patients.

A significant portion of the construction is funded by the Ronald McDonald House charity and the organisation expects to have operating costs of €1.5 million each year.

Asked if this represented a failure by the Government to directly provide enough family accommodation within the multibillion-euro unfinished hospital, the minister said he disagreed and added that the project represented “the very best of Ireland”.

Donnelly said: “Ireland has a really proud history of working with the voluntary sector. I don’t think a thriving voluntary sector is a sign of failure.

“I think a thriving voluntary sector is a sign of a very healthy society where the state plays a role, communities play a role, volunteers play a role.

“And actually, I think that the new facility here really exemplifies that kind of all-of-society approach where no one is suggesting that, you know, all of us in our private lives should step back and just let the state provide everything.”

He said the state was putting in €18.5 million of the projected €28.5 million construction costs for the accommodation centre.

If BAM meets its own schedule, the hospital will be complete by the end of October.

The following commissioning period will mean patients will not be seen at the hospital until April and May 2025 at the earliest.

However, some doubt remains as the hospital’s development board has previously expressed concern that the contractor had not fully resourced the project.

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