Spike in adverse incidents reported at maternity units in Portlaoise and Limerick
There was a sharp spike in the number of adverse incidents reported in the maternity units of hospitals in Limerick and Portlaoise, according to new figures.
It comes as Health Minister Leo Varadkar has backed HSE chief Tony O'Brien despite fresh criticism of the organisation's top management in the wake of a damning investigation into patient safety at Portlaoise Hospital.
Mr Varadkar said an external investigator would be appointed in the coming days to conduct an examination of accountability in the HSE following the highly critical Hiqa report, which found several alerts were not heeded over many years.
Hiqa concluded that baby deaths could have been prevented in the maternity unit.
Mr Varadkar will visit the hospital for the first time today and meet bereaved families. "My first priority was to make the hospital safe. Accountability is important too," he added. Two doctors and two nurses have been referred to their regulatory bodies.
No immediate decisions will be taken to remove or reduce services in Portlaoise's emergency department because a proper evaluation is needed to look at issues such as the impact the measure would have on other hospitals, he added. "You cannot just reconfigure emergency departments overnight," he said.
Earlier, Mr O'Brien told the Irish Independent he would not be resigning and would announce the terms of reference for an external investigator.
He could not say if they would include an examination of his own performance since he took up his post in August 2012, which he said post-dated most of the tragic events in Portlaoise. But it would look at the escalation of alerts in the HSE and issues of lack of compassion, he told the National Nursing and Midwifery Leadership and Innovation Summit yesterday.
New figures from the State Claims Agency's National Incident Management System show the Midlands Regional Hospital Portlaoise and the University Maternity Hospital Limerick recorded a sharp rise in adverse incidents - up by just under 80pc from 371 in 2013 to 667 last year. The hospitals account for less than 16pc of the births outside of Dublin.
The Master of the Rotunda Hospital, Dr Sam Coulter-Smith, told RTÉ's 'Prime Time' programme that without knowing the exact circumstances that the figures on the surface "do appear to be high". He said it was "concerning".
The HSE said there had been an increase in the number of reported incidents at Portlaoise due to an improved IT system and increased awareness of reporting incidents among staff.
It also said the figures were inflated due to a backlog of old reported incidents that were uploaded last year. However, it is understood that the dated legacy data was not included.
An 68pc increase in adverse maternity incidents was also recorded at the HSE Hospital Group 3 which includes Wexford General Hospital, St Luke's in Kilkenny and the Midland Regional Hospital in Mullingar.