20 November 2008 Edition
Assembly endorses Sinn Féin's call for new hospital
‘Minister, it’s time to deliver,’ says Adams
BY LAURA FRIEL
A NEW children’s and women’s regional hospital is an urgent necessity, Sinn Féin’s Gerry Adams told Stormont last week. The MLA’s call for immediate action was endorsed by the Assembly who urged UUP Health Minister Michael McGimpsey to set a date for work to begin at the west Belfast site.
“No one, not even the minister, disputes the wisdom of the provision of specialist healthcare for women and children in a new integrated regional hospital for women and children on the site of the Royal Hospital,” Gerry Adams said.
“No one who listened to the arguments of the trusts, the staff and the women who had recently given birth can be in any doubt about the significance of the project and the urgent need for it. Many sections of the children’s hospital and maternity unit are situated in buildings that are between 60 and 70 years old. As a result, there are problems with general maintenance, space for patients and administration.”
Sinn Féin has been involved in the campaign for a new regional hospital for children and women for many years. During the first Stormont administration, the then Minister for Health, Sinn Féin’s Bairbre de Brún, announced a new regional hospital for women and children to be sited at the Royal Hospital.
Existing maternity hospitals within Belfast, the Jubilee Maternity Hospital and the Royal Maternity Hospital, were amalgamated soon afterwards in preparation for a new regional hospital to follow, but with ministerial responsibility for health passing to the Ulster Unionist Party, the project has stalled and nothing has happened.
The Department of Health is scheduled to spend £225m on capital projects between 2008 and 2011 but has not made the new regional hospital for women and children a priority in that period. McGimpsey has acknowledged that the new regional hospital is “badly needed” but despite this has refused to set a date for work to begin or provide any timetable for completion. Persistent failure to proceed with the project has led some to question the minister’s intentions and begin to doubt if the hospital will ever be built. Such uncertainty poses particular difficulties for hospitals’ planning provision.
Gerry Adams said:
“The failure to give the new regional hospital the required urgent priority is having a profound and adverse affect on planning for maternity and children’s services by the department and by health boards and trusts across the North.
“It is understandable and natural that health boards are reluctant to spend money on the expansion or renovation of smaller maternity units when they expect that a new regional hospital for women and children will be built. A recent example is the public concern around maternity services at Lagan Valley Hospital. This comes at a time when birth rates have been steadily rising across the Six Counties. In the past year, more than 5,500 children were born in the Royal Jubilee Maternity Hospital.”
Of course, if such a facility is to meet the 21st century needs of women and children, it must be a state-of-the-art resource that provides the best and most modern healthcare available and it will be costly. The overall cost of the project is currently estimated at around £400m but work could begin prior to the whole financial package being in place.
Adams urged the minister to end uncertainty by proceeding with the necessary preparatory work, such as clearing and preparing the site immediately.
“The first step is to clear the money in order to enable the required on-site clearance and decanting work to begin,” said Adams.
“Inevitably, there is talk about costs. However, the cost of not proceeding with the project will be counted in the health of our women and children; in the confusion that will be experienced by health trusts across the North; and in the adverse effects on the future planning of those trusts. It makes bad economic sense to delay the project.
“There is nothing more important to society than the provision of health facilities and resources, in particular facilities that save the lives of women giving birth, of babies and of children.
“A few months ago, I visited the Royal to witness for myself the care and compassion provided by nurses and doctors to some of the most vulnerable infants.
“No one disputes the wisdom of the provision of specialist healthcare for women and children in a new integrated regional hospital at the Royal. That is especially true of essential lifeline services for those with serious health complications. Even the smallest baby can be saved today because of scientific advancements.
“Once a child has been brought into the world, every moment counts. Therefore, the minister must now provide clarity about the timetable for commencing clearance work, the beginning of construction and the completion of work at the site for the new hospital. Minister, it is time to deliver.”