Leo in 2016: Unless an asteroid hits earth, children’s hospital will be done by 2020

As new delays and price hikes to the National Children’s Hospital are announced, it’s worth looking back to 2016 at the broken promises and false assurances of then-Health Minister Leo Varadkar.

The hospital, which had been planned since 1993, and was originally to be completed by 2014, only received planning permission from An Bord Pleánala by 2016 to actually begin construction.

At that time, with an initial €650 million in funding for the hospital was set aside, Leo Varadkar as Fine Gael Health Minister told RTÉ that “short of an asteroid hitting the planet,” the NCH would be built by 2020.

However, by 2018, the cost had already ballooned to €1.43 billion – around double the original estimate – and was set to be built August 2022, two years after Leo’s assured timeline.

Worse still, by 2019 the following year it was found to have reached €1.7 billion, with the expense rapidly snowballing.

However, last year DCU Professor Paul Davis warned that the €1.7 billion figure did not factor in the cost of installing computer systems, inflation for construction projects, or a rise in fresh cost claims from the developers.

Speaking to Newstalk at the time, Professor Davis said: “In estimates, by the time we are finished with putting everything in with the actual fit-out, we could be looking at close to €2.4 billion – making it one of the most expensive buildings in the world, particularly of a hospital scale.”

For an idea of this, the most expensive hospital ever built in human history is the Karolinska University Hospital in the Swedish city of Stockholm. While it too experienced repeated controversial delays, and ended up costing Swedish taxpayers €2.2 billion, it has three times as many beds as the Irish NCH will have, making the Irish project vastly more wasteful.

Recently it was revealed that the covid lockdown had delayed construction so severely once again, that the hospital’s timeline has had to be postponed even further, and now will likely not be completed until the latter half of 2024 at the earliest.

The hospital’s CEO, David Gunning, said that this latest delay is likely to result in an increase in the hospital’s already eye-watering expense, saying that “any elongation of the programme equates to additional costs”, though he gave no estimate as to what that cost may be.

He also said that covid-19 health and safety measures and ongoing claims from contractors had had price implications for the construction of the hospital already.

It’s possible that the recent HSE cyber attack may cause the hospital to incur increased costs due to the need for greater cyber security investment, and cause this already late and over budget project to spiral even further out of control.

With the amount of failed predictions from Irish leaders, I wouldn’t bet on the same horse as them if I were you.

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