Births fall 11pc at troubled maternity unit in Portlaoise
The troubled maternity unit in Portlaoise has experienced a sharp fall in births as many expectant mothers choose to go to another hospital to have their baby.
In the first nine months of 2015, the drop in births reached almost 11pc, the Irish Independent has learned.
Although births are dropping nationally, from a high of 75,554 in 2009, the revelations about baby deaths and the damning report by the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) into Portlaoise Hospital have also contributed to a crisis of trust. A spokeswoman for the hospital said: "The fall in Ireland's birth rate is a primary factor, as reflected across other maternity hospitals."
However, she added: "As anticipated, the issues identified with maternity services at Portlaoise have also influenced where mothers choose to have their baby.
"The significant improvements we are making to maternity services are starting to take effect.
"Implementation of our overall reform programme in full is designed to restore confidence in the quality and safety of maternity services available at the hospital," she added.
The hospital has appointed more staff and now has a link-up with the Coombe maternity hospital in Dublin.
The Department of Health said that while numbers of births increased substantially from 2005 to 2009, since 2010 there has been a gradual decrease. "This is due in part to a reduction in fertility rates but, more significantly, to the fact that the numbers of women in the child-bearing age groups have started to decline in recent years," said a spokesperson.
"This is a demographic feature which is likely to result in a steady reduction in numbers of births over the coming decade even if, as expected, Ireland continues to experience fertility rates which are higher than most other EU countries."
The validated figures for births in 2015 have yet to be confirmed but they are expected to be around 66,705.
A draft strategy, mapping out maternity services between 2016 and 2026, does not suggest the closure of any of the smaller maternity units around the country.
However, it says that they should not be allowed to operate in isolation on a "standalone" basis. This is expected to see more link-ups with larger maternity units which are part of the different hospital groups.
While initial steps have been made in this area, the extent to which there will be a sharing of services and expertise is so far unclear.
The strategy document points out that the smaller units cannot sustain the breadth and depth of clinical service that the populations they serve require, without formal links to larger units.
Among the units which will be looked at is South Tipperary Hospital's maternity section, which in the first nine months had just 833 births.