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Dept of Health
St Vincent's

Sisters of Charity will not own or run National Maternity Hospital

The sisters made the announcement today.

THE RELIGIOUS SISTERS of Charity have announced that they will end their involvement with the St Vincent’s Hospital Group – and will have no involvement with the National Maternity Hospital.

Ownership of the specific piece of land at the Elm Park campus, the site of the former St Vincent’s Private Hospital, which is currently subject to a rental agreement, will be sold to SVHG at commercial terms yet to be agreed.

In a statement today, Sr Mary Christian, Congregational Leader of the Religious Sisters of Charity, said:

The Religious Sisters of Charity will end our involvement in St Vincent’s Healthcare Group and will not be involved in the ownership or management of the new National Maternity Hospital.

The news comes after much discussion and controversy over the religious congregation’s involvement in the National Maternity Hospital (NMH).

Over 1,500 people had turned out in a protest earlier this month against the Sisters of Charity owning the hospital.

Ex-Holles Street master, Dr Peter Boylan, resigned from the board of the maternity hospital over the row about ownership. He had described himself as “long being a critic of the plan”, calling it unprecedented.

Health Minister Simon Harris had called for ‘cool heads’ in April due to the uproar over the ownership being given to the religious order. He had also spoken out after people raised fears that having a religious body involved in the maternity hospital would effectively mean that “nuns will be running the hospital” – describing that as “not true”.

The National Maternity Hospital is being moved from Holles Street to St Vincent’s Hospital in Dublin 4, with a large development taking place there at an estimated cost of €150 million.

In April, it was confirmed that the new unit would be solely under the ownership of the Sisters of Charity, who are the major shareholders of the St Vincent’s Healthcare Group. But that has been reversed due to today’s announcement.

Sr Mary Christian continued in today’s statement:

“For the last two years we have been actively working to find the best way to relinquish our shareholding of the St Vincent’s Healthcare Group (SVHG). It includes three hospitals; St Vincent’s University Hospital, St Vincent’s Private Hospital and St Michael’s Hospital, Dun Laoghaire.

Although the Sisters of Charity no longer have any direct involvement in the provision of healthcare services we remain dedicated to preserving the legacy of Mary Aikenhead, whose mission in life was to heal and care for the sick and poor. We believe that the future continued success of SVHG can best be ensured by our transferring ownership of the group to a newly formed company with charitable status to be called ‘St Vincent’s’. The Religious Sisters of Charity will have no involvement in this new company.
Upon completion of this proposed transaction, the requirement set out in the SVHG Constitution, to conduct and maintain the SVHG facilities in accordance with The Religious Sisters of Charity Health Service Philosophy and Ethical Code, will be amended and replaced to reflect compliance with national and international best practice guidelines on medical ethics and the laws of the Republic of Ireland.

She said that the SVHG Board, management and staff “will continue to provide acute healthcare services that foster Mary Aikenhead’s core values of dignity, compassion, justice, quality and advocacy”.

They will ensure that the three hospitals in SVHG can continue to meet the needs of their patients and families, so that every individual can always access the care and treatment they need to achieve health and well-being.

‘St Vincent’s’ will replace the Sisters of Charity as the shareholders in SVHG. The shares in SVHG will be transferred to St Vincent’s for a nominal/“peppercorn” consideration in return.

The Religious Sisters of Charity will no longer have a right to appoint Directors to the Board of SVHG, and the present two Sister Directors will resign from the Board with immediate effect.

The statement added that:

  • ‘St Vincent’s’ will not be subject to undue influence by individuals or from any source.
  • ‘St Vincent’s’ will not seek to generate any profit or surplus, or to remunerate Directors for their work.
  • ‘St Vincent’s Directors will have required skillsets in law, finance, healthcare and social care. They will be true to the values of our Foundress, recognising the right of everyone to access the care and treatment they need to achieve the best possible health care outcomes, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, gender or personal means.

In the event of the liquidation or wind-up of St Vincent’s at any time in the future, any surplus assets arising therefrom will be vested with the Charitable Regulator and utilised for healthcare purposes and facilities with similar values.

“Just as our Founder Mary Aikenhead saw the need in 1834 to establish a hospital to meet the needs of the sick and poor, we believe that it is in the best interests of the patients and children born in the National Maternity Hospital today that they be provided with modern maternity and neonatal services that are women and infant centred and integrated within the Elm Park campus,” said the statement.

“It is now time for us to relinquish completely our involvement in SVHG. We are confident that the Board, management and staff of SVHG will continue to maintain a steadfast dedication to providing the best possible acute healthcare to patients and their families in line with the values espoused by Mary Aikenhead”.

This proposal has the full support of the Board of SVHG.

Health Minister Simon Harris said he welcomed the news.  He said the timing of the “historic decision” was very welcome.

“It directly addresses concerns regarding the question of religious influence in the new National Maternity Hospital and further illustrates the constructive role of the Sisters to facilitate this landmark project.

“The Department of Health is continuing to engage with St Vincent’s Healthcare Group and the National Maternity Hospital in relation to the project. The Minister will update Government on the project next week.”



In a separate statement, The Chairperson of SVHG, James Menton, said: “These are major developments, and reflect the wonderful legacy to Irish healthcare of the Sisters of Charity.”

The Sisters have always held the highest ambitions for the provision of world class healthcare services in Ireland and have successfully achieved and sustained this. They also see the need for the proposed development of the new National Maternity Hospital integrated within the Elm Park campus and want to do everything possible to ensure this vital facility for mothers and babies is developed as quickly as possible.

He said that the Board, management and 4,000 staff of SVHG are also absolutely committed to upholding the vision and values of Mary Aikenhead.

A transition board will be put in place for a period of time following this decision.

The National Maternity Hospital said it “warmly welcomes” the statement from The Sisters of Charity and the Board of SVHG. It said:

At all stages during the Kieran Mulvey mediation it was our clear understanding that the nuns never sought to exercise clinical control over the Hospital and that the independent ethos of the new National Maternity Hospital would be preserved on relocation to the SVHG campus.
We have worked closely with St Vincent’s University Hospital for generations and we would like to acknowledge the outstanding contribution of the Sisters of Charity to Irish Healthcare over so many years.

It said it it would also like to acknowledge the support of the Minister, Simon Harris and the Department of Health and its own Board and staff “in being so steadfast during this process”.

A former member of the National Maternity Hospital and St Vincent’s University Hospital co-location board, Professor Chris Fitzpatrick, told Today with Sean O’Rourke on RTÉ Radio 1 that the decision was “a brave step forward and the correct decision”.

He said it had been made in the interests of women and was a positive development, made in response to public concern about a potential conflict of interest.

The news was also welcomed by the Health Minister as a “very significant” announcement.

Dr Peter Boylan also described it as a positive development, saying the Sisters deserve praise for making it. He told Today with Sean O’Rourke that he didn’t think “the Sisters should have been put in the position in the first place”.

He said that the situation had been stressful for him but he has very fond memories of Holles Street, of which he is governor.

Fianna Fáil Spokesperson on Health, Billy Kelleher has said the Sisters of Charity have taken the right decision to remove themselves from the operation of the St Vincent’s Hospital Group, and the new National Maternity Hospital.

“This decision, I believe, is in the best interests of both the organisation and of patients, and will provide a blueprint for other religious organisations to follow,” he said.

“The Sisters of Charity have provided excellent medical and nursing care to the people of Ireland for generations. Their contribution should be recognised and celebrated, but in 2017, it’s time to find a better and more modern model for the delivery of acute and maternal health services.”

He said that Minister Harris “must now come forward with a proposal that ensures that the State’s €300 million investment in the new Maternity Hospital is reflected, and protected, in its ownership and governance structure”.

Sinn Féin Health spokesperson Deputy Louise O’Reilly also welcomed the news, saying:

“The decision is hugely important for a variety or reasons, but most of all; it is hugely significant for patients and particularly for women who will be cared for in any of these hospitals and in the prospective new maternity hospital.

“Indeed, today is a great victory for the grassroots movements and the individuals across the state that protested this decision from the outset and made it clear that the provision of health services should be free of religious interference.”

Sinn Féin brought a motion in the Dáil earlier this month calling for the new National Maternity Hospital to be kept wholly in the ownership of the State.

Read: Pictures: Over 1,500 protest against Sisters of Charity owning maternity hospital>

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