National Maternity Hospital in the works

By Alexander Kearney

Image courtesy of NMH Planning and O’Connell Mahon Architects.

Construction of the new National Maternity Hospital is finally due to get underway on the St Vincent’s University campus, Dublin 4 by the end of the year.
The 300 million euro project has been beset by public controversy since news broke in April last year that the hospital was to be owned by the majority shareholders of St Vincent’s Healthcare Group, the Sisters of Charity and not by the state.

At the time, Holles Street master Dr Rhona Mahoney and Health minister Simon Harris were forced to defend this arrangement against fears that management of the National Maternity Hospital would be bound by a Catholic ethos, therefore prohibiting certain procedures.

The drama peaked when former master of Holles Street and Dr Mahoney’s brother-in-law, Professor Peter Boylan publicly condemned the agreement and resigned from the hospital board.
At one point, the crisis threatened to derail the move to the Elm Park campus altogether. In late May 2017, the Sisters of Charity announced their intention to withdraw from St Vincent’s Healthcare Group, public and private, and the principal objection to the deal was substantially removed.

Confirmation that the hospital would proceed came in late August, when An Bord Pleanála approved the ambitious scheme, with just minor changes. The application was submitted directly to the Board, under Section 37E of the revised Planning Act, 2000, rather than through the City Council planning department.

The new five and six storey facility will be located immediately to the east of the Clinical Services Building, to which it will be joined. It will contain a gross floor area of 50,776 square metres and hold 244 beds. The strategy of co-locating all maternity hospitals with other primary care facilities was laid out in the National Maternity Strategy, 2016-2026, and renewed in the National Development Plan 2018-202.

The technical advantages of co-location were emphasised by Dr Mahoney in her advocacy of the move. She also stressed the severe drawbacks with remaining in the existing cramped and outmoded city centre location. The number of babies delivered at Holles Street has risen by roughly 50% in the past twenty years with 9,186 births in 2015. This accounts for some 14% of the babies born in the republic as a whole. The NMH is not only the largest maternity hospital in the state, it is one of the largest maternity hospitals in Europe.

For local residents, the most contentious issue remains the impact of the new hospital on nearby traffic and parking. This was highlighted in An Bord Pleanála’s oral hearing of 31st May – 1st June with particular concern expressed about the entrance junction with Nutley Lane. Provision for 277 new hospital parking spaces will be made by extending the existing multi-storey car park. A further 149 spaces are earmarked to replace those lost to the new addition.

The first site works will be aimed at limiting the release of aspergillus fungus during excavation and construction. Aspergillus is of most concern to patients with weakened immune systems. In the planning documents, the building phase is projected to take some 56 months with a peak number of 500-600 workers on site. This suggests a completion date of 2022-23.

The principal architects for the NMH are O’Connell Mahon, who have become Ireland’s leading practice for hospitals within the past decade. They are also responsible for designing the much-delayed Children’s Hospital in St James’s, and the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dun Laoghaire, each now underway.
While the new NMH seems at last to be becoming a reality, the precise details of its governance have still to be announced. The areas of contention are likely to centre around whether the state, which will own the NMH building, will pay rent to St Vincent’s Hospital Group which continues to own the land.

Following the departure of the Sisters of Charity, it has been assumed that the public and private hospital will be run by a lay-only board, but it has yet to be stated whether this body will be accountable to any other group. Further details on these arrangements are expected in the coming months.