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June 27, 2016

Health’s lucky numbers?

Dara Gantly

Dara Gantly wonders if the Government is playing the lottery with our health infrastructure needs

Welcome to tonight’s Lotto draw, which as always is independently observed by the DoH. Firstly, congratulations to the Central Mental Hospital (CMH), which may have won last week’s jackpot with the confirmation that the Government’s new five-year capital investment programme includes the much-needed replacement of the Dundrum facility. The hospital bought its ticket some 16 years ago and has have been playing since 1850 (the year from which the current facilities date). Minister Kathleen Lynch expects the new facility to be operational by 2016.

Back to tonight’s draw, and the new children’s hospital is playing for a jackpot of €650 million. So best of luck and off we go. And the first number out this Saturday is 445 (the number of beds envisaged in the hospital, which will also have 13 operating theatres); followed by number 2013 (the year construction on the project will hopefully start). Next we have 200 million (the amount in euro that was due to come from different sources including charitable donations, although Minister Dr James Reilly now says the development will not be contingent upon charitable donations). This is followed by 26,688 (the number of inpatient discharges envisaged in 2015; this should rise to 27,542 by 2021).

Next we have 2 (the number of Chairmen recently lost by the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board — its previous CEO also left for Tallaght Hospital). And now we have 55,700 (the number of urgent cases planned for the Ambulatory and Urgent Care Centre, to be located at Tallaght Hospital, in 2021, representing 45 per cent of all emergency attendances between the two sites). And finally tonight, our bonus number is 20 million — the amount in euro that could be saved in building costs due to the current competitiveness of the construction industry; a small silver lining to our dark economic cloud.

What the likelihood is of these numbers ever coming up remains to be seen, but the Government seems confident that a jackpot windfall from the sale of the National Lottery licence early next year will secure the hospital’s future. Indeed, Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howlin is “absolutely confident” the money will be secured — which suggests interest has already been expressed in a possible tender.

Would this sale generate enough money? Last year, the National Lottery generated €772 million in sales and €243.7 million was raised to fund good causes, bringing the total amount of funding raised to over €3.6 billion since 1987. So if, like in the UK, the Government was to run a competition for a 10-year licence, one would imagine this is doable. For every pound spent on the National Lottery in the UK, Camelot pays 50p into the prize fund, 28p to good causes, and 12p to the government — so 12 per cent of €722 million is €86.6 million, which means the €650 million required could be generated over seven-and-a-half years, and it would be well covered if the licence was issued for 25 years, as has been mooted by some.

On hearing that in the years 2012-2016 an investment of €1,950 million, or €390 million per year, will be made in health infrastructure, many no doubt were relieved that Health survived the capital machete much better than Transport or the Prison Service. Sighs of relief also probably emanated from those involved with the National Project for Radiation Oncology, the Clinical Research Facility at UCHG, and the replacement blood transfusion facility in Cork.

Good news too for IT contractors, as the Minister signalled a major upgrade in ICT capabilities for Health, and hopefully also for the beleaguered primary care strategy, with news that a new plan due for the construction of primary care centres based on a mixed Exchequer and private-funding approach is imminent, with State funding targeted at disadvantaged areas. And about time too.

So perhaps Health’s lucky numbers have come up this time around. From all of us here at the Lotto draw, slán agus beannacht leat.