That’s what you call an unholy row!
Two senior medics, who are in-laws, at odds over nuns’ hospital
THE country’s two most eminent obstetricians were last night refusing to back down in an astonishing row over the new National Maternity Hospital.
The Master of Holles Street, Dr Rhona Mahony, accused her predecessor, Dr Peter Boylan, of ‘misleading’ the public over ownership of the planned new NMH building. The pair are long-time colleagues and Dr Boylan is married to Dr Mahony’s sister Jane.
THE country’s two most eminent obstetricians were last night refusing to back down in an astonishing row over the new national maternity hospital.
Current Master of the National Maternity Hospital in Holles St Dublin, Dr Rhona Mahony, angrily accused her predecessor, Dr Peter Boylan, of ‘misleading’ the public over ownership of the planned new NMH building.
Extraordinarily, the pair are not just long-time colleagues but Dr Boylan is also Dr Mahony’s brother-in-law, having married her sister Jane.
Dr Boylan was a member of the Holles Street board which defended Dr Mahony in the row over salary top-ups, after a HSE audit said she had been paid a €45,000 payment in addition to her €236,000-a-year salary.
Yesterday’s spectacular public disagreement between two such close colleagues deepened the row over the State’s decision to allow ownership of the new €300million hospital by the Catholic order, the Sisters of Charity.
The order, which ran many Magdalene laundries, still owes the State €3million of the €5million it agreed to pay victims of abuse at the institutions. Ministers insist that the Sisters of Charity have effectively handed the State a very valuable site next to St Vincent’s Hospital, which they also own.
They say the hospital can never be sold and the nuns will not be allowed exert any influence over medical procedures.
However, the simmering row over the ownership became a full-scale conflagration yesterday after Dr Boylan, who recently retired from practice but remains on the NMH board, went on RTÉ radio to denounce the deal. ‘I fully support the need for the new hospital but I think they (Holles Street) have been backed into a corner effectively by the minister who has said this is the deal,’ he said.
‘Undoubtedly, the women of Ireland need a new hospital. It’s a superb design but the structure is completely wrong and it’s just unacceptable for the State, our money, to be given to the Sisters of Charity to build a hospital.’
And he said: ‘What’s wrong with that is the State is investing €300million of your money and my money in a new maternity hospital. It is inappropriate that that hospital should have a strong religious influence, particularly from the Catholic Church, with all its bad history in relation to women’s health. Issues like abortion and IVF and so on are directly contrary to the nuns beliefs.’
An audibly angered Dr Mahony went on Seán O’Rourke’s radio show less than two hours later and said: ‘First of all, I am really surprised that the chairman of the Institute of Obstetrics and Gynaecology would be so misleading on radio to suggest the nuns will be running the hospital.
‘This is not true. To suggest this hospital will be run under a Catholic ethos, this is not true. When the National Maternity Hospital moves to the Elm Park campus it will be an independent hospital and an independent company with its own independent board dedicated solely to the provision of gynaecological maternity and neonatal services.’
And she said: ‘I couldn’t care less who owns my hospital building but I really care that I have control over the service that I deliver and that I can give clinical care to women that is appropriate.
‘It is not the way forward to continue to stay in a dilapidated building that cannot provide the facilities for modern care. So, are we really going to misinform people? We will be an independent company that will operate in entirely independently clinically.’
And she added: ‘But what we don’t need is misinformation and we don’t need is scaremongering and what we don’t need is completely inaccurate information And what we don’t need is this attack on the nuns, who will not be involved in the delivery of maternity gynaecological and neonatal care.’
Former top judge Nicholas Kearns, chairman of the NMH, also attacked Dr Boylan for not telling the board – or his sister-in-law – he was going to publicly criticise the arrangement. He said: ‘I only learned (Wednesday night) that Dr Boylan proposed to appear on Morning Ireland.’
‘I’m surprised he’d be misleading’
IN many ways, the building of the new National Maternity Hospital on the St Vincent’s site in Dublin appears to tick all the boxes. There is no dispute whatsoever, after all, that the current hospital in Holles Street has long been past its sell-by date, that its facilities are antiquated, and that it is no longer equipped to service the needs of the mothers and babies of this country. That we need a new maternity hospital – and as soon as possible – is therefore a given.
To have such a hospital co-located beside another major general hospital is also medically important. Indeed, in emergency situations, it is a vital requirement and potentially even life-saving. That the new hospital is to be built beside a general hospital such as St Vincent’s is also, therefore, a huge plus.
So the notion that, without having to buy a site at huge expense to the State, we can still build a state-of-the-art maternity hospital right beside a reputable public hospital sounds like the best deal possible. On top of that, after much wrangling, the new hospital is said to have established a management structure that guarantees medical independence – to the degree that Master Rhona Mahony says she is perfectly happy with the situation.
Looking at the overall picture, it is therefore easy to understand why people would conclude that there are no obstacles here. Indeed, if the only concession is that the new hospital is nominally owned by St Vincent’s, with the Government holding a golden share, then, on the surface, this does not appear to be an unreasonable proposition.
However, it has emerged that there are indeed serious concerns here. Those who have ownership of St Vincent’s Hospital are the Sisters of Charity, who, in powerful detail, have set out how that hospital is to be run in accordance with their religious principles. As a result, certain procedures at variance with those Catholic principles are not carried out in St Vincent’s, thereby illustrating how the owners are indeed exerting influence on the medicine practised in that hospital.
It is impossible, therefore, to expect that those same beliefs will not be brought to bear by the same owners when it comes to the governance of the new maternity hospital. The history of business tells us, time and again, that it is the owners who call the shots. In this situation that would obviously imply religious influence over medicine.
That is certainly what Peter Boylan, former Master of Holles Street and arguably the country’s most respected obstetrician, is saying. That is precisely what he fears from this arrangement.
Meanwhile, one of the St Vincent’s Healthcare Group board members, Sister Agnes Reynolds, has publicly stated that the Sisters of Charity will have no input into the running of the maternity hospital, and that they will ‘respect the rights of mother and baby’. Yet, in itself, that very statement implies a degree of influence.
Nor should we forget that the Sisters of Charity have failed to pay the compensation required of them to the victims of their appalling Magdalene Laundries regime.
All of this raises major concerns in relation to the operation of the new maternity hospital. Obviously it is imperative that such a hospital is built, but with such misgivings now raised, the Government must explore other options, including the acquisition of the site by compulsory purchase order.
In reality, however, the simplest and best solution is for the Sisters of Charity to relinquish their ownership of the St Vincent’s site. To do the right thing. And to give something valuable back to the women of Ireland.