Tuesday 10 December 2019

Cavan maternity unit had 45 'clinical incidents' this year

Two investigations under way following deaths of babies

Cavan General Hospital, where two babies have died in the past week. Photo: Lorraine Teevan
Cavan General Hospital, where two babies have died in the past week. Photo: Lorraine Teevan
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

The maternity unit at Cavan Hospital has reported 45 "clinical incidents" in the first three months of the year.

A clinical incident is an event or circumstance that could have, or did, result in unnecessary harm to a patient.

The reports of the incidents were made as part of a self-monitoring surveillance system by hospitals in a bid to improve patient safety.

Two separate investigations are under way at the maternity unit following the deaths of two babies in the past week.

The first is examining the death of a day-old baby on Wednesday after being born by Caesarean section.

A separate investigation is also being carried out into the death of a baby on Sunday after a pregnant woman developed a life-threatening haemorrhage at home, and was brought by ambulance to the maternity unit for an emergency Caesarean section.

The baby did not survive, and the woman who was administered medical treatment is now recovering.

Previous to this, during the first three months of the year, 382 babies were born in the maternity unit at Cavan.

During this period, the 45 clinical incidents reported in Cavan compared with 47 incidents reported by Portiuncula Hospital maternity unit in Galway. This is of similar size and had 462 births over the same three months.

Nationally, the most common clinical incidents in maternity units which led to claims involved perineal tear and shoulder dystocia, stillbirth, unexpected neonatal death and cerebral irritability.

The total national spending on clinical claims in maternity services in 2014 was €57.3m.

Cavan reported no perinatal deaths - babies who died at or around the time of birth - over the three-month period.

Meanwhile, the hospital yesterday refused to say what progress has been made in previous reviews into baby deaths at Cavan stretching back to 2012.

A spokesperson also would not say what arrangements are in place to provide cover for a consultant obstetrician who has been on paid adminstrative leave for a year-and-a-half.

Health Minister Simon Harris said he only became aware of the two baby deaths in Cavan on Monday.

He said it was important that both investigations have a "speedy conclusion".

"I think it is really important that we have these reports so we can establish the facts.

"It's also very important that we respect patient confidentiality at this very sensitive and difficult time for families."

Dr Sam Coulter-Smith, the former master of the Rotunda Hospital, which has linkages with Cavan through the RCSI hospital group, said it was important to put the tragic incidents in context.

Cavan maternity unit has around 2,000 births a year, and four to five deaths per 1,000 deliveries would not be out of the norm, he said.

That would be eight to 10 baby deaths a year - and Cavan's statistics were much lower, he pointed out.

The Association for the Improvement of Maternity Services in Ireland (AIMS) said it was saddened, but not surprised to read of the baby deaths.

"Ongoing and unaddressed underfunding and understaffing of maternity units across the country, particularly smaller units, is undoubtedly a key factor in this tragedy.

"However the wider issue of general lack of accountability across the maternity services is at its core," spokeswoman Krysia Lynch said.

"AIMS has been raising concerns about the safety of practice in Cavan General for several years.

"While it is certain that there will be widespread attempts to paint this as an issue of a smaller unit, the fact is that this is far from confined to Cavan General."

Irish Independent

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