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The row over spiralling costs at National Children's Hospital is set to intensify this week

The hospital will cost €1.4 billion – that’s €450 million higher than the figure of €983 million approved by government in 2017.

THE ROW OVER the spiralling costs at National Children’s Hospital is set to intensify this week as the Oireachtas Health Committee is to hear from department officials about how the costs got so out of control. 

Last week, the committee was told the current estimation is the hospital will cost €1.433 billion – that’s €450 million higher than the figure of €983 million approved by government in 2017.

However, indications are the cost is expected to rise, with the Taoiseach confirming that other health projects will now be impacted, with some expected to be delayed a number of months. 

Today, the Taoiseach said the Department of Health has retained PWC, the expert accountancy and consultancy firm, to carry out an analysis of why the costs spiralled. 

The company will report back to the government in a few months as to how the costs escalated in the way they did.

Continuing with its hearings this week, further fuel has been thrown on the fire with the General Secretary of the Department of Public Expenditure refusing to attend the committee meeting tomorrow. 

Secretary General Robert Watt, who made the headlines last year for proposing to remove pensioners’ free travel during rush hour periods, has been criticised for declining to appear before the committee. 

Watt wrote to the health committee saying he did not think his attendance was required as it is “a matter for the Department of Health”.

However, speaking to RTÉ’s Sean O’Rourke programme yesterday, TD Michael Harty said the central question is if the project is value for money. 

He said Watt has responsibility for public procurement and should attend the meeting as it falls under his remit. 

Given that the cost overrun is to impact on future health capital projects for the next five years, Harty said answers about budgetary oversight should be given. 

The overall cost of the new hospital has been in the news a lot in recent months. So, how did it all get here?

Timeline

2005/2006: The Children’s Health First (McKinsey report) recommends a single national children’s hospital should be built in Ireland. 

But where? 

The Mater Hospital site is given the green light by government, but a lot of people aren’t too happy with this choice. 

2006-2012: There is a lot of back and forth about whether the Mater site is the correct location. In 2012, the then health minister James Reilly establishes a review group. Towards the end of the year, a new site is announced at St James’ Hospital. 

Summer 2015: A planning permission application for the new hospital is submitted. The estimated cost is €650 million with the hospital due to open in 2020. 

April 2016: Planning permission is granted for the construction of the new national children’s hospital. 

March 2017: Controversy over the site rumbled on. A number of rural TDs said children would be left languishing in ambulances in Dublin traffic if the new children’s hospital is built on the St James’s site. Campaigners suggest the campus of Connolly Hospital in Blanchardstown as a more suitable site.

April 2017: To much fanfare, Health Minister Simon Harris announces the plans for the new children’s hospital, stating that it will cost over €1 billion and will open in 2021.

September 2017: Yet more controversy – this time over the name of the hospital. Harris later rules out that it will be named after a religious figure or saint. 

Autumn 2018: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar tells the Dáil the new children’s hospital may cost even more than its latest €1.433 billion price tag – this cost represents a €450 million increase on what the hospital was projected to cost in April 2017.

He says that €100 million from the 2019 Health Capital Budget will have to go towards the hospital in order to fill the funding gap. A number of health projects are going to be delayed as a result. 

Winter 2018: Questions begin to be asked as to who is responsible. A  review is to be established to find out why the costs got so out of control. Leo Varadkar can’t say if anyone will be held accountable

January 2019: The board tasked to oversee the project appears before the Oireachtas Health Committee. The whole project is dubbed a “catastrophic failure” by Fianna Fáil’s Stephen Donnelly. 

The chairperson of the board, Tom Costello, tells the committee that “if they were to start again on a project of this scale and complexity we would adopt the same procurement approach”.

What’s next? 

Pressure is mounting on Secretary General Robert Watt to appear before the committee this week, as question marks hang over other health projects and whether they will be unduly delayed.  

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