National Children’s Hospital Scandal: What Was Varadkar Doing?

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The government’s rhetoric that they cannot afford to pay the nurses is wearing thin. They have no problem forking out 2 billion euros  for a National Children’s hospital, making it the most expensive in the world.

They are even paying half a million euros to the accountancy firm, PWC, to see why the hospital cost so much. Yet PWC consultants will charge the state about 1000 euro an hour for an investigation.

There is no need for such additional expense. We simply have to ask what was Leo Varadkar doing while he was Minister for Health.

According to a parliamentary reply to Brid Smith TD, the ‘the procurement strategy (for the National Children’s Hospital) was developed and finalised from 2014 to 2016.’ This was precisely the years when Varadkar occupied the position as Minister for Health.

Before he came into office, 40 million euros of state money had already been spent drawing up plans for a National Children’s Hospital at a location in the Mater Hospital, which was subsequently rejected on planning grounds. A considerable amount that money had been spent on the ‘preparation of a design brief.’

If the then Minister for Health was on top of his job, he would have taken the brief for the project and ensured that it was adapted for the James Hospital site. The more detailed the brief, the easier it would have been to draw up a very specific tender. A huge amount of money had already been spent on the design brief  – so there was no excuse for not doing the additional work needed for the new location.

Varadkar, however, went for a two stage contract where companies would tender for above the ground work and below the ground work.

He then failed to tie matters down with a fixed price contract, which would have limited the cost escalation. Such fixed prices contracts had become common throughout the public sector.

The excuse was that the complexity and scale of the project meant that ‘the circumstances were such as to warrant a deviation from the standard form of Government contract and agreed a derogation from its use.’

The reality is that Varadkar –like Harris today – are PR obsessives who care more about their image than looking at the detail of their responsibilities.

Next time you hear them lecture the nurses, remember how incompetent they are when it comes to cost over-runs at the National Children’s Hospital.