Minister of Health Simon Harris announced on the 18th April 2017 that the National Maternity Hospital (NMH) at Holles Street would move to a site at the St. Vincent’s Hospital campus in Dublin 4.
The site is owned by the Religious Order the Sisters of Charity via the St. Vincent Healthcare Group (SVHG). The SVHG incorporate St. Vincent’s University Hospital, St. Vincent’s Private Hospital and St. Michael’s Hospital. They are a not for profit, voluntary group of hospitals, with charitable status and it’s shareholders are the Sisters of Charity.
The current net worth of the Group (Group net assets) is €233m. The annual turnover of the Group in 2005 was €272m
The brokered deal revealed that the land on which the new hospital would be built would be “given” to the State in order to build the State-funded hospital, but continue to effectively be owned by the Sisters of Charity Religious Order. This evoked public outcry on many levels. Over 80,000 people have signed a petition calling on the government to reconsider this deal and to ensure that our finest and newest maternity hospital would not be subject to any religious bias even by association. Many thousands also attended protests at the Department of Health in Dublin and outside the NMH at Holles Street and St. Vincent’s Hospital.
Why are the public so vehemently opposed to this? Firstly because of the Sisters of Charity’s track record in treating the vulnerable mothers and babies in our society. Most notably their involvement in the Magdalene Laundries, in which unmarried mothers were effectively incarcerated, forcibly separated from their babies born out of wedlock and indentured into a lifetime of servitude scrubbing dirty clothes as an act of penance.
Secondly, in modern day Ireland, the public in general feel that there should be a separation of church and State in terms of education and healthcare.
Thirdly, because the government cannot guarantee that any hospital building on land owned by religious orders are completely free of Roman Catholic Canon Law and ethos. This point was raised by Bishop Doran in an article in the Sunday Times on the 23rd April 2017. Similar concerns have been raised by Dr Peter Boylan (former Master and clinical director of the National Maternity Hospital) and Tom Lynch head of the Eastern Hospital Group.
Obviously, there are generic assumptions and conjectures about Church involvement, even by association in the National Maternity Hospital, however there are also specific reasons to be concerned. For example, there have been cases in the Mater Misericordiae hospital where women were denied contraceptive medication and also recently where the board stated that the hospital would not be able to comply with the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act (PLPA). There have also been cases in hospitals under religious influence where pregnant women were denied life saving cancer treatments on the basis that this could have a deleterious effect on their pregnancies.
Looking forward, a new maternity hospital for the 21st century would more than likely be required to perform abortion, gender reassignment, vasectomy, IVF and tubal ligation – all procedures that go against Catholic doctrine and technically therefore procedures that might not be performed.
Further investigations reveal that the new National Maternity Hospital would be managed by a Board. The Board of the new National Maternity Hospital would consist of 9 members, with 4 members nominated by the NMH and 4 members nominated by the SVHG, there would be a 9th member who would be an international expert. It is as yet unclear who this expert would be and how they would be appointed and whom would have veto over their appointment.
The Minister of Health Mr Simon Harris and the current Master of the National Maternity Hospital Dr. Rhona Mahony are however insistent that there could be legal assurances that there would be no religious involvement in the clinical autonomy of the hospital. However, it was only after the deal was brokered that the Minister of Health wrote to the HSE to seek assurances on this. One would have thought this assurance would have been watertight at the get go. Dr Mahony has meanwhile blamed “the feminists for unravelling this new hospital for women”, a charge that one would not expect to come from a female Master of the NMH as it smacks of patriarchy!
In the latest twist the Minister of Health Simon Harris and the SVHG are now playing “dare” with the new maternity hospital, implying that if the public and all those questioning the brokered deal do not put up and shut up then we wont have a new maternity hospital, and the women and babies of Ireland will suffer, ergo it will be our fault. We at AIMS Ireland reject any such forms of coercion. We refuse to accept a second rate hospital for the future pregnant people of Ireland because the government and other parties have no further appetite to go back to the negotiating table and secure the public the best possible new maternity hospital. Women attending the decrepit facilities in the current NMH at Holles Street absolutely deserve better, no one is disputing that, but they deserve more than better, they deserve the best, and what is on offer now is not the best and it is certainly not acceptable when there are other options available.
If the Minister wants to play “dare” in this dangerous way, and inform the public that there are no alternatives to this deal with the SVG and that they will not renegotiate, then other options for the location of the NMH are available. There are various possible locations for the three new maternity hospitals for Dublin as outlined in the KPMG report of 2008:
K4: Current scenario (Rotunda, Holles St. & Coombe) 129
K5: Scenario 1 – Mater, St. Vincent’s & St. James’s 132
K6: Scenario 2 – Mater, St. Vincent’s & Tallaght 136
K7: Scenario 3 – Mater, St. Vincent’s & Beaumont 140
K8: Scenario 4 – Mater, Beaumont & St. James’s 143
K9: Scenario 5 – Mater, Tallaght & St. James’s 146
K10: Scenario 6 – Mater, Beaumont & Tallaght 149
The KPMG report states that “On foot of further discussions, the potential sites for maternity hospitals was reduced to include the Mater site along with any two sites from St Vincent’s, St James’, Beaumont and Tallaght . . . choosing the Mater as a site for a maternity unit was a given, as it is also the site for the new national children’s hospital. It said the optimal location of the other two maternity unit sites was St Vincent’s and Tallaght, as this would make the new configuration of maternity units similar to the existing one geographically.”
Unquestionably, the current scenario with the NMH move is not a fait accompli. More to the point, St. Vincent’s has no childrens hospital on site, Tallaght does. If what the Minister says is genuinely true that there is absolutely no manoeuvering power whatsoever, then there are other location options entirely as reflected by the KPMG review 10 years ago and maybe these should be revisited. Another option discussed in the KPMG review is the option of TWO maternity units for Dublin instead of three. This would create a supra maternity unit. A bigger unit would enable greater expertise to be built up in neonatology, and would enable some procedures currently not able to be performed in Ireland to finally be offered here.
Two bigger maternity units could function in conjunction with recently made recommendations by the National Maternity Strategy 2016, in which it suggested the creation of more alongside birth centres more community midwifery services and more home birth services. There would certainly be the potential to develop these or similar in Loughlinstown and Beaumont.
As if the saga was not Kafkaesque enough, on the 25th of April the Board of Governors of the current NMH wrote to its ex Master and Clinical Director Dr Peter Boylan and asked for his resignation for continuing to publicly highlight the problems of the potential move to SVHG. The current Board of the NMH has 100 members and includes all consultant obstetricians there (who have life membership). The ex-officio Chair of the Board is the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Diarmuid Martin and its membership also includes the parish priests of St. Andrew’s Westland Row Parish, Haddington Road Parish and Sandymount Star of the Sea Parish. http://www.nmh.ie/about-us/corporate.201.html
AIMS Ireland calls on the Minister of Health Simon Harris to stop holding the people to ransom over the sub optimal deal with the SVHG. Broker a new deal in which the land is owned by the State, and in which the Board of the new hospital will have no religious membership. We assert that the only acceptable option is an independent secular ethical maternity hospital guided by clinical best practice and evidenced-based care. The Minister must accept that wherever the hospital is located it must be 100% independent. Speaking on behalf of the women and families we represent we feel that it is a gross insult to to service users that the Sisters of Charity be involved in any way.
Care in our maternity hospitals is already affected and constrained by the 8th amendment and it is unthinkable that care should be further constrained especially if the 8th amendment in its current form were to be removed (as the Citizens Assembly is recommending).
We have represented maternity service users for 10 years in the Maternity Services, including through the Miscarriage Misdiagnosis scandal, Savita, and the Port Laoise scandals, and nothing has caused such intense feelings of betrayal as this! We know the hospital is badly needed but it can not be a case of take the hospital at any cost; the women of Ireland deserve more than that.
We call on the Minister to put all the options on the table. The full process by which the State will make a €300 million investment of taxpayers money in a new maternity hospital needs to be fully transparent and acceptable to the public at large.
See also press releases from AIMSI on this topic: