Stephen Donnelly sought to respond to critics of the ownership arrangements for the long-delayed hospital by publishing legal documents late on Tuesday evening on the HSE website and promising to take questions from the Oireachtas Health Committee.
The planned relocation of the hospital from Dublin’s Holles Street to a site at Elm Park alongside St Vincent’s Hospital, as well as its governance and ownership, has been the subject of controversy for some time.
At a briefing on Tuesday, Mr Donnelly said that Cabinet has agreed to publish the legal documents relating to the relocation, and that he would brief the Health Committee on the plans.
They want absolutely reassurance that the new hospital will be fully independent, that it will be clinically independent, that it will be operationally independent, and it will offer all services. That is absolutely the case. There are multiple layers of protection in place
A memo will go before Cabinet in two weeks’ time, he added.
“The new hospital will be the greatest investment in infrastructure in women’s healthcare that we’ve ever had,” Mr Donnelly said.
He admitted that while questions had been raised, people need not have cause for concern.
“There’s various concerns being raised, so around the investment in the state and the investment of the state being protected, but I think the biggest concern that people are raising is they want reassurance.
“They want absolutely reassurance that the new hospital will be fully independent, that it will be clinically independent, that it will be operationally independent, and it will offer all services.
“That is absolutely the case. There are multiple layers of protection in place.”
Mr Donnelly said that he wanted people to “see for themselves and be able to see within the memorandum of understanding the clinical protections in the NMH and indeed the obligations on the new National Maternity hospital to provide all services”.
Who owns the land under the building has absolutely no impact on the services provided, or the governance of the building
The planned decision to push ahead with Cabinet approval on Tuesday had been met with criticism from both protesters and from politicians.
Mr Donnelly indicated that the Government would now try to alleviate those worries.
“There is absolutely no ambiguity whatsoever about the clinical and operational independence of the National Maternity Hospital.
“That’s absolutely guaranteed with multiple layers of protection in place.”
Mr Donnelly, flanked by several health officials including the Master of the National Maternity Hospital, Professor Shane Higgins, and Dr Rhona Mahony, a consultant obstetrician and board member of Vincent’s Healthcare Group, stressed that there could be no more delays.
He said that the health of women was at stake, after years of delay.
“Who owns the land under the building has absolutely no impact on the services provided, or the governance of the building,” he said.
He said that the state also does not own the land under GP surgeries or primary care centres.
Mr Donnelly said that a 299-year-lease will give the Irish state a proprietary interest in the land, with the HSE leasing the site for the hospital from St Vincent’s and owning the hospital itself.
Under the constitution of the new hospital, the health minister will not have day-to-day involvement but will have a so-called “golden share” in the company, allowing them to intervene to direct the Board to ensure all maternity, gynaecological or neonatal care is provided if it proves necessary.
“I really hope we’re two weeks away from a Government commitment to build this hospital,” Dr Mahony said.
She insisted that women were currently facing inadequate maternity care and could not wait any longer.
“I know that there are people at the moment who have real concerns about this hospital. And I know that there’s been so much misinformation unfortunately in the public domain for many years now.”
“We must not let this project fall apart because of misinformation.
“We must remember at all times what is at stake here, what we can create for women in this country. And this is an opportunity that must not be missed.”