Pregnant women heave themselves from double-parked cars on Holles Street and dodge vans as they rush down the busy street to the thump of the hospital’s automatic doors.
Behind the tiny foyer is an elevator, old and small and slow. Above is the Nightingale ward, where up to 15 pregnant women lie behind the gauzy blue curtains and listen to the sounds of other women’s early labor.
And on the top floor, in the master’s office, Professor Shane Higgins is in shock.
The National Maternity Hospital (NMH), a building that trembles and throbs every day with the chaos and tenderness of brand new life, is in crisis mode.
Prof Higgins, who has been a master since 2019, is seated in a blue smock and leaning back in his chair. Days earlier, he and colleagues at the Department of Health had attended an alleged press conference to announce that Cabinet had approved plans for the new LMWH at St Vincent’s Hospital.
Instead, Prof Higgins and his colleagues were trotted out in front of journalists to somehow explain how ministers had decided to delay their decision by two weeks.
“We were disappointed. There will be another cabinet vote in two weeks between the success and failure of this project,” says Prof Higgins.
The sense of dismay is terrifying. Do you really think this could be the end of the new NMH? Yes, says Mary Brosnan, director of midwifery and nursing. “Because we don’t have strong politicians, we have weak, fearful politicians who are afraid of losing their seats and harassing women.”
Holles Street staff are dismayed and feel like they are fighting a barrage of misinformation about the new hospital.
Activists tweeted pictures of a protest ahead of an NMH board meeting this week, holding up placards declaring that a hospital would be “gifted” to “nuns who sold babies”. This is wrong not only because the Sisters of Charity will not have any stake in the new hospital, but also because the hospital will not be “gifted” to anyone. The hospital building will be owned by the state.
On social media, the account runs the “Our NMH” campaign.
muses with no evidence that the reason so many LMWH doctors want to continue the project is that they will make money with new private practices on site.
Fifty-two doctors, including Higgins and three other former masters and many of the staff currently working at Holles Street, signed a letter arguing that the project should go ahead.
When the Taoiseach quoted the doctors in the Dáil this week, he was shouted down by Social Democrat TD Jennifer Whitmore, who said: “You are not lawyers.”
But for those on this side of the debate, led by Mrs Whitmore’s party, the word of a lonely retired doctor has proved more than enough.
Higgins has been dismayed at politicians who he says “do not exercise due diligence” before making claims about the hospital. “They are willing to just repeat what was said to them in the loudest voice, which is typically and usually the voice of Peter Boylan,” says Dr. Higgins.
“I don’t understand why Peter Boylan continues to peddle the narrative he’s been peddling about ‘the nuns’ for years, knowing they’re gone, knowing they won’t have any impact on anything… he is out there, he’s got a very big soapbox to stand on.”
dr Boylan, the former champion of the NMH, is well respected in its halls. A staff member says he was the master who brought the hospital into the 21st century.
But at the same time, the pain he inflicted on former colleagues is palpable. As of Friday, Prof. Higgins is still aching from a comment made by Dr. Boylan made prime time the night before.
Pressured as to why he was a single vote against the project compared to dozens of colleagues who were in favor, Dr. Boylan: “You don’t understand.”
“I assure you, if this gets derailed, every single staff member at this hospital, and I would say the vast majority of St Vincent’s, will totally blame him for harming women’s health for the next 20 years blame,” said Prof. Higgins.
dr Boylan has repeatedly claimed that the new company to which the Sisters of Charity transferred their shares, St. Vincent’s Holdings, is “Vatican approved.” It’s a phrase repeated often enough that it’s beginning to take on the undeserved luster of truth, even finding its way onto the Dáil record.
Legal advice provided to Holles Street confirms that the Sisters of Charity did not have to seek permission from the Vatican to transfer their shares. They did it anyway, and the Vatican agreed. But the Vatican had no involvement in the formation of St. Vincent’s Holdings.
To those who question why the land can’t just be turned over to the state, Holles Street says St. Vincent’s always knew it was a volunteer hospital that had agreed to merge with another volunteer hospital , and this did not want to sit on their campus state. Holles Street believes this is appropriate.
Another myth is that St. Vincent is a “Catholic Hospital”. Some point out that it does not perform gender reassignment surgeries. “That’s because we do sex reassignment surgery here,” explains Prof. Higgins. “The surgeon qualified to do this doesn’t work at the St. Vincent.”
The same goes for IVF which is not currently available in any publicly funded hospital in Ireland.
And as for the claim that St. Vincent’s doesn’t do vasectomies, neither does Holles Street. “We do tubal ligations,” says Higgins, explaining that vasectomies can be done in facilities like family doctor clinics. “Tube ligations were performed at Vincent’s and terminations were performed at Vincent’s,” says Prof. Higgins.
Holles Street’s desperation to combat the misleading claims is evident. Prof Higgins says he’s been screaming “That’s not true!” at the TV every night this week.
Younger female staff are appalled by the rhetoric in their WhatsApp groups, where friends ask if the nuns are trying to ‘steal’ a hospital.
Sometimes, walking this reporter through the hospital, Brosnan randomly takes a midwife aside and asks if she has “any concerns about religious interference in St. Vincent”? Some look wrong. Some cast an incredulous look at them Irish Independent, as if to confirm that such a question is really being asked. Emma, a midwife who works on the infamous Unit 3, laughs with ridicule.
“No,” she says, “I’m not worried about nuns.”
Unit 3, long, imposing, and dark, is the Nightingale station that you’ve probably read so much about. That would be gone in the new hospital. Women would have private rooms with their own bathrooms. The new hospital would increase the size of the NMH from 15,000m² to 40,000m². It would increase the number of newborn beds from 35 to 50, with mothers able to sleep next to tiny sick babies in private rooms instead of being separated.
The number of operating rooms would increase from two to five, drastically reducing waiting lists for gynecological procedures. There would be more room for research and development in areas such as fertility, menopause, assisted human reproduction, sex reassignment and genetics.
Halfway through the interview, Higgins leaves his office with his phone to his ear. Strange words torn through the door suggest he is on the phone with the Department of Health while at the same time answering a query from them prime time. He had previously informed the Greens, and further meetings with politicians are imminent. Isn’t that frustrating when he has better things to do? “We have a fortnight to get the truth out,” says Higgins, “I think that’s the most important thing any of us could do right now.”
https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/health/we-have-a-fortnight-to-get-the-truth-out-there-as-holles-street-creaks-at-the-seams-staff-battle-myths-41623846.html ‘We have a fortnight to get the truth out’: As Holles Street creaks at the seams, staff battle ‘myths’