Wednesday 18 October 2017

Grieving mothers 'have to share wards with newborns'

Coombe Hospital Master Dr Sharon Sheehan appears at the Joint Oireachtas Committee on
Health and Children in Leinster House yesterday to discuss maternity services
Coombe Hospital Master Dr Sharon Sheehan appears at the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children in Leinster House yesterday to discuss maternity services
The Coombe Hospital
Mother and baby in hospital - pic posed by models
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

Grieving women who have lost their baby are being forced to endure sharing a room or ward with mothers and their newborns in outdated maternity hospitals.

And women who are miscarrying can find themselves waiting for appointments alongside mothers with children in buggies.

The distressing situations were revealed by Coombe Hospital Master Dr Sharon Sheehan yesterday, who said: "This is happening to some mother as I speak."

Dr Sheehan and Dr Sam Coulter-Smith, master of the Rotunda maternity hospital, were appearing before the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children to highlight the pressures on services due to lack of investment in facilities and understaffing.

Dr Sheehan said that while promises for re-location of these old maternity hospitals were in place, funding must be released to improve existing facilities to deliver a "humane service".

Dr Coulter-Smith said maternity services had suffered from severe under-investment and despite several reports calling for more obstetricians as far back as 2003, Ireland had the third-lowest number per 100,000 women in the OECD.

He said we should have a consultant for every 350 deliveries. We currently have one per 800.

"I am not sure how many more investigations, reports, and recommendations are needed or how many more adverse events will be required to get those who oversee and fund the health service to recognise the need to invest in the quality staff required to keep our mothers and babies safe," he said.

Despite the pressures, perinatal death rates for babies in Ireland are extremely low and maternal safety also compares well with other developed countries, he added.

However, when a baby dies, only in the biggest hospitals is there the expertise to do a post-mortem to establish the cause of death.

Both doctors highlighted a range of serious concerns, including:

Only a handful of units around the country can provide each mother with a scan in early pregnancy to determine her dates and give a second scan to detect anomalies in the foetus.

Inadequate planning for women who become pregnant with pre-existing illnesses, which may be life-threatening.

Long waiting lists for gynaecology outpatient appointments, which risk a delayed cancer diagnosis.

A lack of public confidence in maternity services.

No intensive-care facilities in the three main maternity hospitals in Dublin, leaving mother and babies separated.

Dr Coulter-Smith also said that each maternity unit should be delivering at least 5,000 babies annually to ensure there was enough medical experience to provide quality care - a much higher figure than the birth numbers in several units.

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