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Key children’s hospital positions not filled permanently as opening date looms

Construction of hospital expected to be completed this year with first patients treated from summer 2025

A raft of senior positions in Children’s Health Ireland (CHI) remain unfilled, or occupied temporarily, just a year before the planned opening of the new national children’s hospital.

The gaps in CHI senior management have arisen as it takes on the complex task of amalgamating the staff of the existing children’s hospitals into the new facility, which is being built on a site at St James’s Hospital in Dublin 8.

The role of CHI chief executive was vacant from last November after Eilish Hardiman went on medical leave. In January, Fiona Murphy was appointed as acting chief executive and staff were told last week that Ms Hardiman has been reassigned to a new role of strategic programme director.

The move follows months of controversy over long delays in children’s spinal surgeries as well as issues at Temple Street hospital, where a surgeon has taken voluntary leave after reports found high levels of complications in his work.

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Construction of the new hospital is expected to be completed later this year and the first patients may be treated from summer 2025. However, the €2.2 billion project has been dogged by controversy, rising costs and repeated delays.

CHI did not comment on whether the newly-created senior management position, to be filled by Ms Hardiman, represented an exemption from the current recruitment embargo which has prevented staff being appointed to many posts. Her reassigned role was created by the CHI board and sanctioned and agreed by the Department of Health and the Department of Public Expenditure, said a spokeswoman.

CHI last week said its board had recommended that Ms Hardiman be appointed for a third term as chief executive. It said the Minister did not give consent for such a move, citing Government policy which sets limits on the length of time individuals can serve in senior positions in the public service.

In March, Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe said in reply to a parliamentary question that chief executives in non-commercial State bodies were generally appointed for a term of five years with the possibility of a further and final term of five years – a total duration of 10 years.

CHI chairman Dr Jim Browne told staff late last month that the new role for Ms Hardiman would include implementation of the national model of care for paediatric healthcare in Ireland and optimising co-location benefits of the new hospital on a shared campus with St James’s Hospital.

Asked about the salary attached to her new role, a CHI spokeswoman said it was a senior executive role, payable in accordance with the appropriate HSE pay scale.

The role of head of communications in CHI is vacant at present. Recruitment is under way, subject to HSE approval, the spokeswoman said. The director of people and culture role, a key position given the task of amalgamating departments from different hospitals at St James’s, is currently a temporary appointment.

The role of director of estates and sustainability is also currently occupied on an acting basis.

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