National Maternity Hospital ownership "a storm in a teacup"

Sole ownership of the new facility will pass to religious group, the Sisters of Charity when construction is completed

National Maternity Hospital ownership "a storm in a teacup"

File photo, the Master of the National Maternity Hospital Dr. Rhona Mahony, 25-5-2013. Image: Sam Boal/RollingNews

The master of the National Maternity Hospital has insisted that the controversy surrounding the ownership of the new facility is a “storm in a teacup” and a “non-issue.”

Concerns have been raised about the potential for religious influence over the new hospital – after it emerged that sole ownership of the facility will pass to religious group, the Sisters of Charity when construction is completed.

The new €300m facility - which will cater for up to 10,000 births per year - is set to be built on the St Vincent’s University Hospital campus in Dublin - which is owned by the Catholic sisters.

On Newstalk Breakfast this morning, the master of Holles Street, Dr Rhona Mahony said the controversy over the ownership was a lot of fuss about nothing.

“This is a storm in a teacup; it is a side-show; it is a non-issue,” she said.

She said the hospitals stance has been unequivocal and warned against getting lost in speculation, adding “we must look at the facts.”

“The hospitals are clear, there will be operational and clinical independence for the new entity on this hospital,” she said. “It will not practice according to Catholic or any other religious ethos. The ethos will be clinical excellence and I cannot be clear enough on that.”

“All of the procedures that we perform today – contraception, IVF, termination of pregnancy in the case where a woman is dying – will continue to be performed in the new hospital, there is absolutely no question about that, we would not consider moving unless that was the case.”

Religious ethos

Yesterday, the former master of the hospital, Dr Peter Boylan said the Department of Health had been warned "some time ago" that there would be ethical and ethos issues if the hospital was located on land owned by the religious group.

File photo, former master of the National Maternity Hospital, Dr Peter Boylan, 25-04-2017. Image: Laura Hutton/RollingNews

He said it was "highly likely" that the ownership issue would interfere with the new facilities ethical governance, adding that it was "a bit naive to expect that this would wash in the public mind."

The Bishop of Elphin Kevin Doran warned on Sunday that any land owned by any religious order is "ecclesiastical land and as such the Pope has primacy over governance."

After airing his concerns about the move over the weekend, Dr Boylan was asked for his resignation by Dr Mahony and the hospital board’s deputy chairman, Nicholas Kearns.

He has refused to resign and the board is due to meet this evening.

The St. Vincent's Healthcare Group last night issued a statement confirming there will be full clinical independence at the facility.

The deal in place between Holles Street and St Vincents Healthcare Group was also published - and the Health Minister says he'll reveal more before contracts are signed.

Clinical independence

In the statement, the group accused Dr Boylan of “continued misinformation and untruthful allegations” – in light of his warnings that allowing ownership of the hospital to pass to religious group, the Sisters of Charity could compromise its clinical independence.

The call for Dr Boylan’s resignation has ignited its own storm of controversy, after a number of commentators praised him for putting his concerns in the public domain.

Dr Mahony however, confirmed that she stands by the decision.

She said normal practice when a member of a board speaks out against “an overwhelming majority decision” is to resign first before doing so.

“He is absolutely entitled to his opinion, [the decision] has nothing to do with the opinions he is expressing,” she said. “It is a corporate governance issue on normal corporate conduct.”

“There is an overwhelming majority on the board of Holles Street who support this, there is an overwhelmingly majority of clinicians at the National Maternity Hospital who support this, the Director of Midwifery and Nursing overwhelmingly support this.

“There is no division within the National Maternity Hospital, we are absolutely passionately committed that this hospital be built because this is the best thing for women and infants.”

Revolutionising women's health care

She said the media storm over the last number of days has only served to reaffirm for her “how important this move is.”

“As a doctor who practices in Holles Street; as a doctor who is on call at night in the hospital, I know in my heart and soul that the very best thing that we can do for women and infants is provide them with a state of the art hospital in a campus that provides highly sophisticated tertiary medical service, surgical service and diagnostic service,” she said.

“This is going to revolutionise healthcare for women and babies and no misinformation or side-shows must get in the way of this focus. It is hugely important.”