Belfast Telegraph

New children's unit to replace hospital that shocked minister

BY JOANNE SWEENEY

It's been described as the "shame" of Northern Ireland's health service.

But now staff, patients and parents are celebrating after the go-ahead was given for the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children to be replaced with a new £250m building.

Parts of the dilapidated hospital are more than a century old and the campaign for a new building has taken over 20 years.

Work on the new hospital is likely to start by the end of this financial year and will be completed by 2020/21.

Hospital staff were said to be "elated" by Finance Minister Simon Hamilton's approval for the new building, which was announced yesterday.

Mr Hamilton spoke of his "shock" at the state of the children's hospital – which is the regional centre of children's care – saying it is "far from fit for purpose".

He said he was "ashamed" after witnessing the facilities in which dedicated health professionals dealt with some extremely ill children when he visited the site two weeks ago with his party colleague Health Minister Edwin Poots.

He told the Assembly yesterday: "I was shocked by what I saw."

He described doctors, nurses and other staff "going beyond the call of duty...in surroundings that, I am ashamed to say, are far from fit for purpose".

Mr Hamilton's welcome announcement was made as part of a reallocation of unspent funds, mainly from the stalled A5 road project.

The Department of Health has been allocated £52m, £15.5m of which will go towards starting the new hospital.

Some £14m was also approved to tackle elective surgery waiting times in the £52m bonanza to the province's health budget.

News of the hospital finally getting the green light after decades of campaigning has delighted staff.

"We are absolutely delighted and elated at the news," said Brian Barry, the Belfast Trust's director of specialist hospitals and women's health.

"We always knew that we had a world-class staff and now we are going to to a world-class facility."

One of the main advantages of the new hospital will be the ability to treat children up to the age of 18 at the proposed 155 inpatient bed hospital – an extra 68 beds.

Extra provision to allow parents to stay with their sick children will also be included in the hospital's plans.

Mr Barry said that the new hospital would have 80% single inpatient rooms and promised that the new design will "draw on best practice from the UK and beyond".

The new hospital will be built beside the new maternity unit, where work has just commenced on the site of the old Musgrave and Clarke clinic site.

The project will also include the demolition of the ageing Bostock House.

The prospect of a replacement hospital was first talked about in the 1990s by Baroness Denton, the direct rule minister responsible for health.

However, despite it being on the wish list for two other health ministers under devolved government – Sinn Fein's Bairbre De Brun and Ulster Unionist Michael McGimpsey – the finance was not forthcoming.

Health Minister Edwin Poots spoke of the boost that the building of the new hospital would provide to the local construction industry and stressed: "Every pound spent on construction generates in the order of £2.84 of economic benefit."

Sinn Fein's West Belfast MP Paul Maskey welcomed the boost in employment and to the local economy in west Belfast.

He added: "It has been consistently highlighted by Sinn Féin that the hospital was ageing, getting ever harder to be maintained and cramped on space".

SDLP councillor Alex Attwood praised hospital staff for their patience. "Staff at the hospital are doing an outstanding job in a less than ideal working environment."

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