A long-delayed plan to build a new regional children’s hospital for Northern Ireland has finally been given the go-ahead by the Stormont Executive.
Finance Minister Simon Hamilton told the Assembly on Monday that an initial £15.5m would be allocated to the project on the Royal Victoria Hospital site in Belfast next year.
He said: “Two weeks ago, I accepted an invitation from the Health Minister to visit the children’s hospital at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast.
“I was shocked by what I saw: dedicated health professionals going beyond the call of duty to treat some extremely ill children but doing so in surroundings that, I am ashamed to say, are far from fit for purpose.”
Delivering his speech on the outcome of the October Monitoring round, Mr Hamilton announced some £80m to departments in the remainder of this financial year and funding of £177m for 2014-2015.
Mr Hamilton added: “The allocations I have announced today will leave a lasting economic impact on Northern Ireland, boost our economy as the recovery gathers momentum and provide assistance for vulnerable people in our society.”
A capital allocation of £52m will also support a number of other Health projects, including £1m for a paediatric centre of excellence at Daisy Hill Hospital, £1m for a paediatric ward and ambulatory care unit at Craigavon Area Hospital and £14m to address elective care waiting times.
Welcoming the announcement, Health Minister Edwin Poots said: “Children and young people have unique and specific medical requirements and this money will assist us in providing them with services that are fit for the 21st century.
A replacement Regional Children’s Hospital is a major project that I have been keen to take forward, particularly as parts of the current facilities are nearly 100 years old.
Health Minister Edwin Poots
The DUP Minister added that the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust is at an advanced stage of developing a business case for the replacement hospital.
“I have asked for this to be progressed as a matter of urgency and anticipate business case approval in early 2014. This will enable work to deliver the new hospital to begin in 2014/15 with completion expected in 2020/21.”
Mr Poots continued: “This investment will also provide a boost to the local construction industry. Hospital construction, by its complex nature, is labour intensive and requires the input of a wide range of small to medium sized enterprises from across all areas of the construction industry.
“This offers opportunities to local contractors, sub-contractors, suppliers and manufacturers. Every pound spent on construction generates in the order of £2.84 of economic benefit.”
UUP Health spokesperson Roy Beggs welcomed that funding had been secured for a new children’s hospital but expressed regret that the money could not have been found when Michael McGimpsey was Health Minister.
“A new Children’s Hospital is badly needed and the entire community will obviously welcome news that the money has been found,” he said.
“In the last Assembly the Ulster Unionist Health Minister Michael McGimpsey continually lobbied for funding for a new Children’s Hospital.
“I can recall that in February 2011 McGimpsey asked for more money only for the First Minister to react by describing such requests as “obscene”.
“Had the money been made available to Michael McGimpsey we would be a few years further down the line towards completion.”
This announcement we hope will see a state of the art facility that patients will benefit from, creating employment in not just construction and medical services but also boosting the local economy in West Belfast.
Paul Maskey, SF
Sinn Féin West Belfast MP Paul Maskey also welcomed the news.
“This decision is long overdue. The initial build of this crucial facility was to be within the 2005-08 spending cycle,” he said.
“It has been consistently highlighted by Sinn Féin that that hospital was aging, getting ever harder to maintain and cramped on space.”
SDLP Councillor Tim Attwood said that staff at the hospital are currently doing an outstanding job in a “less than ideal working environment.”
“They must be commended for their dedication and professionalism. The time has come, however for a state of the art facility that can best serve the needs of sick children.
“It is vitally important that there is a robust link between the new children’s and women’s hospital.
“The Royal Belfast Hospital has an excellent reputation right across the world and this new Children’s Hospital will greatly enhance that reputation.”
Alliance Health spokesperson Kieran McCarthy MLA said: “The current facilities are not adequate for the 21st century. I hope that with such a large amount of funding, this new hospital will become a world leader for the provision of health services for children.
“Such a large investment is not just good news for our health service, but it will also be a boost to our local economy and in particular the construction sector,” he added.
The hospital proposal is one of the main beneficiaries of a multi-million reallocation of capital funds across Executive departments, required as a consequence of delays to other major schemes, such as the troubled A5 carriageway project.
Other road projects are now set to go ahead with the funding that has been freed up from the delayed A5 upgrade between Londonderry and Aughnacloy. It was halted after a successful legal challenge.
Over £40m has been secured in funding by the Department of Regional Development to help support road improvements and street lighting.
In addition, the department received £75m in capital funding for 2014/15.
Around £8m will be spent on a five-mile stretch of the A26 Glarryford Road outside Ballymena. A further £30m has been allocated to the ongoing upgrade of the A8 Belfast to Larne route and £13.6m will be invested in the A31 Magherafelt bypass.
Around £1m has been allocated for preparatory and design work on an upgrade of the Randalstown to Castledawson section of the A6 Belfast to Londonderry road.
Roads Minister Danny Kennedy said: “I am absolutely delighted that the Executive have finally accepted my argument on the A26. This really positive news will no doubt be well received in North Antrim.
“My Department have been on the start line with this project for a number of months. Now with the gun being fired today, my officials are looking forward to getting going and delivering this hugely important infrastructure project.”
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