Contractors see no cause for concern at UHL site

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Groundwork gets under way on the site of the new 60 bed unit at UHL last April.
Groundwork gets under way on the site of the new 60 bed unit at UHL last April.

A NEW 60-bed unit at University Hospital Limerick (UHL) is expected to be completed by next April, the company behind the €19.5 million project has confirmed to the Limerick Post.

This follows confirmation earlier this week that the HSE awarded the contract for the building to Western Building Systems, which built 42 schools, all of which it is claimed have been found to have structural defects.

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Western was awarded the tender earlier this year and signed off on the contract last May.

The Department of Education is pursuing legal action against the firm for the cost of remediation of defects discovered at the schools.

A UHL spokesman said the 60-bed unit “will be fully compliant with the building regulations”.

“The proposal to provide a fast track ward block at UHL was initiated during 2018. Following a public procurement process by the HSE, the successful bidder was Western Building Systems. Funding to progress the project was subsequently included in the HSE Capital Plan 2019,” they said.

The contract is “underway and progressing well” and is “anticipated to be completed by Quarter 3 2020 with the new beds envisaged to be operational in time for winter 2020”, the spokesman added.

“Strict EU public procurement guidelines” were followed, and, Western “was entitled to bid for the contract and met all the contract criteria”.

As the project is “a rapid build”, specialist work of this nature would have precluded some contractors from bidding. The work is being supervised and monitored by a HSE-appointed “technical advisor team” as well as “local HSE Estates staff”.

UHL is consistently the most overcrowded hospital in the country, providing the only 24-hour emergency cover for the mid-west region and the spokesman said that the 60-bed unit “will go some way towards addressing the acknowledged lack of bed capacity in the region”.

There is as yet no firm commitment to fund a proposed 96-bed unit at UHL.

“This project is some years away from delivery”, the UHL spokesman said.

Limerick Sinn Féin TD Maurice Quinlivan said: “It is very concerning that a company who is currently being sued by the Department of Education have been awarded the contract for the new ward at University Hospital Limerick.”

“We don’t yet know to what extent Western Building Systems was responsible or not, for the building defects found in the 42 schools they built for the State over the past number of years.”

“Until these facts are established, I would have assumed current tenders from this company would be under review, and new tenders not accepted, until the full facts are established.

“I am extremely concerned that this news could result in delays for the new ward, which is critically needed at UHL,” Deputy Quinlivan added.

Former Mayor and current Fianna Fáil general election candidate James Collins, said he felt there were many questions that needed to be answered about the situation.

“I’m conscious that the company went through a tendering process and won the contract, but were those adjudicating on that contract fully aware of the issues which have arisen at the 42 schools. We have seen hundreds of schoolchildren nationwide disrupted,” Cllr Collins said.

“In some cases, schools have had to shut down. There are outstanding questions in relation to the structural integrity of the work carried out by this company, so we must ask is it right to give them this contract?”

“At the very least, the tender award should be reviewed given the large amount of public money at stake, and the significant public interest and public safety issues involved.”

A UHL nursing source said they did not want to comment on the circumstances surrounding the awarding of the contract but that they “hope it won’t delay the unit”.

A spokeswoman for Western Building Systems said the company, which has operated to 35 years, “continues to be awarded and deliver important public and private contracts in Ireland and the UK including University Hospital Limerick which is set for completion in April 2020”.

“These tenders were awarded following extensive procurement processes.” She said that Western had “recently completed work and / or are currently working on other projects, including, Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda; a psychiatric inpatient unit at Beamount Hospital; Roslyn Park College; Greystones National School; Colaiste Cois Life and a number of housing projects”.

“We note comments from the HSE last year when it stated ‘there are currently no safety concerns regarding the integrity of its buildings in relation to construction works carried out by Western Buildings Systems at this time’”.

“We welcome engagement and cooperation with public contracting partners in respect of all such projects, not least to ensure we avoid a situation whereby projects which are deemed to have met contractual requirements and certified as such by Government Departments and agencies are subsequently not deemed to be.”

“We will work with the contracting authorities such as the Health Service Executive in respect of whatever structures they deem appropriate as we have also done up to this point in respect of the school building with the Department of Education.”

“In parallel, we will continue to engage with the Department of Education and Skills to ensure the independent report it promised into the schools building programme is delivered with a firm deadline for the publication,” the spokeswoman concluded.