As we all know, the impact of Covid-19 on the delivery of health services in the State has been catastrophic.
We also know that waiting lists across nearly all medical specialties have increased significantly and that it will be years before we can finally determine the real magnitude of the crisis that has been created in non-Covid-related areas such as cancer, coronary and paediatric care.
It needs to be remembered however, that there was another crisis in the making well before Covid-19 or Wuhan was even heard of and it is one that cannot and should not be cloaked by the focus on the pandemic.
I am referring to the scandal that is the delivery of the National Children’s Hospital project. In fact, I raised the matter this week with the Taoiseach during Leaders Questions in the Dáil.
There I reminded the Taoiseach that this project was originally budgeted at €650 million.
The cost then escalated to €1.74 billion, with the most recent estimate now reported to be in excess of €2 billion.
In February, the chief executive of the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board told the Committee of Public Accounts that the hospital is not likely to be fully operational until 2024.
This is a full two years after the original contractual endpoint of 2022. Only ten months of this can be put down to Covid restrictions on the construction sector.
We were also told in February that more than 700 claims have been lodged by various contractors against the project, with the amount associated with these thought to be in excess of €300 million.
This chaotic project has become a financial albatross and a health nightmare.
It will inevitably drain vital and much-needed resources away from other areas of healthcare.
How could it not, given the scale of the monies involved?
So, it is a fact then that this project will at the very least end up as one billion euro over budget ever before a sick child is even seen.
Let me put that in context in terms of what a spare billion euros can get you in health.
I was informed through a Parliamentary Question that the total cost of implementing the entire national cancer strategy between now and 2026 – will be in the region of €840 million.
I also know that the total net budget for adult and Children’s palliative care last year was just over €100 million.
That still leaves us with €60 million.
I informed the Taoiseach yesterday that part of what is infuriating about all of this is the fact that his party and indeed the previous Government had two opportunities to call a halt to this madness.
In March 2017 and March 2019 my colleagues in the Rural Independent Group provided opportunities for a radical reassessment of the project.
They failed to take these opportunities and now we are on track for unprecedented levels of cost-over-runs and endless legal battles with contractors. The Taoiseach described these legal disputes as ‘challenges.’ I prefer the term ‘crisis.’
When I raised this point with the Taoiseach yesterday, his reply was, astonishingly, to say I was mistaken because, Fianna Fail “was not in government then.”
Talk about selective amnesia when it comes to Fianna Fails Confidence and Supply arrangement with Fine Gael during that period!
Long after Covid-19 has disappeared from the headlines, the fall-out of the National Children’s Hospital will continue to be felt.
Fianna Fail must therefore accept that this project, by effectively draining a billion euro out of the health budget will cause immeasurable harm to the Irish health system and that they were wrong to support its continuation at the present location in 2017 and 2019.
We urgently need an impact assessment and re-evaluation of existing health policy objectives in light of these facts. We need to know what services will be delayed because of the billion euro overspend.
It is the least we deserve from a party and a Government that, outside of its response to Covid, has created the single most expensive infrastructure mistake in the history of the State.
Carol Nolan is an Independent TD for the Laois Offaly constituency