SCORES of pregnant women have been left distressed and anxious after being told the country's last privately-run maternity hospital is to close within weeks.
The shock announcement that a provisional liquidator for Mount Carmel Hospital in Dublin was being appointed by the High Court came without warning yesterday – plunging the loss-making facility into chaos with a loss of 330 jobs.
The hospital – which delivers around 20 babies a week – is to be part of an "orderly wind down" and is expected to close for good in the coming weeks.
Around 64 patients, 13 of whom are babies, were still being looked after in the hospital last night but these will be gradually discharged, including some elderly people who will have to return to hospitals like Beaumont which they had left to ease overcrowding.
Women who were booked in to give birth in the coming days will continue to be cared for in Mount Carmel but doctors are now desperately searching for another hospital for pregnant patients due in the weeks ahead.
Other patients who were scheduled to have procedures such as hip surgery from Monday have had their appointments cancelled and will have to be treated elsewhere.
The hospital's 330 staff, 200 of whom are nurses, will be paid until the end of next week and will only receive statutory redundancy.
A spokeswoman for the liquidators RSM Farrell Grant Sparks said: "We are working with the HSE on the transition. All of these patients will be contacted to facilitate alternative arrangements over the coming week."
It is believed that the hospital had already received between €7m and €9m in funding from the taxpayer via NAMA since the state agency took control of loans attached to the business in 2010.
It would have needed another €3m in taxpayer funding this year in order to keep it open, the Irish Independent understands.
The number of births recorded at the hospital fell to 1,250 last year from about 2,000 a couple of years ago.
Mount Carmel was described yesterday as insolvent and the court told that it had experienced a "disastrous 2013". It has debts of over €35m. It is understood patients who have already paid deposits will be refunded.
A spokeswoman for the HSE said that, for now, the closure of Mount Carmel remained an issue for the liquidators and its management as it was a private hospital.
It is understood that neither the HSE nor the Department of Health had been made aware in advance of yesterday's High Court application although NAMA had made it clear in November that it could not continue to fund it..
A spokesman for the National Maternity Hospital said that contingency plans had been put in place in discussion with doctors in Mount Carmel in the event of it being closed.
Some staff reported that surgical companies which had equipment in operating rooms were removing it in case it was confiscated and "shelves were being emptied" by suppliers.
"Anyone can walk in off the street. It is in utter chaos," said one member of staff who did not want to be named.
The hospital, which was acquired by developer Gerry Conlon in 2006 from the Little Company of Mary Sisters using a €65m loan from AIB, had been up for sale since last year.
While as many as 28 serious potential bidders emerged from an initial 50 expressions of interest, just one substantial bid for the business was received, it's understood.
Health Minister James Reilly confirmed that the Department of Health was approached by NAMA about buying it and a "high level examination" followed. However, to buy the hospital as a going concern would unnecessarily expose the HSE and the State to very obvious and significant financial risks.
Asked about the ability of other hospitals to deal with extra patients, he said: "Birth rates have fallen significantly in recent years and the projections are that they will continue to fall least until the early 2020s.
There were 675 births registered in Mount Carmel in the first six months of 2013. This would not justify buying the hospital."
Questioned on whether patients who were due compensation payouts from the hospital would be paid, a spokeswoman for the liquidators said this was an issue of concern and would be reviewed along with pending claims.
Philip McAnenly of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) said some nurses had worked there for 35 years and were devastated.
"Patients who were transferred there from hospitals like Beaumont while waiting for their next place of care will now have to go back there even though it does not have the room for them."
The minister is allowing 130 beds to be taken out of the system at a time when hospital A&E departments are overflowing with trolleys, he warned.
Nurse Eleanor Byrne said she only finished work at 8am and was awoken by friends just after midday calling from abroad to find out how she was coping due to the hospital's closure.
Eilish O'Regan and John Mulligan