Minister of Social Affairs Tanel Kiik (Center) notes that there has not been enough time to design and build the planned central Tallinn Hospital in Lasnamäe, but confirms that government is set on making the large-scale complex a reality.
The government has decided that Tallinn Hospital must be constructed using funds allocated from the EU's economic recovery fund, set in place to alleviate damages to the economy as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. The regulations for the fund, however, state that construction must begin by 2023 at the latest, but the hospital complex is still not designed and a detailed plan has not been drawn up yet either, which has led to critics calling the idea an unrealistic one.
Kiik admitted to ERR that the idea and schedule is indeed ambitious, but he nonetheless considers it a realistic plan. "There is no point in deceiving the public and ourselves. Our desire is to complete the hospital. We understand the schedule is ambitious and faster-paced than normal, but we are in an abnormal situation," the social minister noted.
Kiik said that global pandemics will in time become more and more common, and Tallinn's healthcare networks must therefore be prepared.
Kiik said: "It is unthinkable that the already depreciated and aged buildings at both the East-Tallinn Central Hospital (ITKH) and West-Tallinn Central Hospital (LTKH), some more than 70 years old, could be sustainable enough to offer high-level medicine. The much-discussed LTKH infection clinic was never built to be an infection clinic as such, but it is the best we currently have in Tallinn."
He confirmed the plan is to begin construction on the Tallinn Hospital in 2023, as the EU regulations see it.
The social minister said: "2021 and 2022 will go to design stage. So I think it is realistic to begin construction on the hospital, considering that the EU economic recovery fund is a unique process, the like of which might not come again in the near future. We have to use the moment as best we can and this large project is a necessity for Estonian healthcare."
Money from the EU recovery fund
Firstly, European Commission approval for the project must be acquired and the design process must be initiated the year after.
The plan is to apply for €380 million from the EU, supplemented by Tallinn's €100 million, allocated over many years in the budget. The construction is planned to be finished by 2026.
Kiik added: "And of course, necessary equipment and hospital furnishing must also fit that budget."
The social minister said €30 million is set for the design process for next year. The Ministry of Social Affairs specified that this funding is also planned to be taken out of the EU's recovery fund, but the European Commission must first approve the project. There is no allocation for Tallinn Hospital in next year's state budget however.
The state's budgetary strategy for 2021-2024 also presents the initial plan for the planned EU money, but the allocations of the funding between ministry sectors is still unspecified, representatives of the social affairs ministry told ERR.
Eva Lehtla, spokesperson of the ministry, told ERR: "EU support measures in the beginning period, 2021-2027, are considered as a state-wide row in the budgetary strategy and will be allocated to specific ministries and areas of ministry activities according to usage after specification."
Lehtla continued: "Therefore, the allocation of EU budgetary measures are a part of the state budget and the totals are planned for certain projects in the coming years."
This means that LTKH, which has asked the government for €1.3 million to create a gallery corridor between their two buildings, will not be allocated that funding.
Kiik explained: "The current stance in government discussions was that if we were to construct Tallinn Hospital, which we have decided to do, it is no longer reasonable to make investments into those hospital buildings that are actually planned to be realized, meaning sold, or not to be used as health care establishments in the future."
This means the LTKH must continue deploying ambulance vehicles to move patients from their infection clinic to the Meremeeste clinic building for the next six years.
Editor: Krisjan Kallaste, Andrew Whyte