Expectant mothers shun hospital after safety fears
Expectant mothers shunned Midland Regional Hospital following a series of baby deaths at the maternity unit.
The Portlaoise hospital has been the centre of controversy over the deaths of five babies and was the subject of a damning report by the patient-safety body Hiqa in May.
Birth numbers in Portlaoise plummeted by 12.1pc in the first five months of 2015, compared to the same period in 2014.
Although the national birth rate is falling, the anxieties generated about safety at the Portlaoise unit have also contributed to the reduction in the number of births there.
A spokeswoman for the HSE said: "In the direct aftermath of each of the episodes of adverse publicity relating to the Midland Regional Hospital in Portlaoise, a reduction in attendances at booking clinics was observed. However, attendances recovered some weeks later."
She said assistance was offered where a mother-to-be who had already booked with Portlaoise opted to change to another hospital.
"The hospital will ensure relevant information is passed to the hospital and reassure the patient that the Portlaoise maternity unit will be available to her if required."
The HSE has insisted that the units are now safe following an overhaul of training and the system of how it is run.
There were 758 births in Portlaoise hospital to the end of May, compared to 1,007 in nearby Mullingar.
Mullingar, however, also saw a drop-off in births compared to last year, down 12.3pc.
Nationally, birth numbers are down by 2pc to 27,596. Births peaked in 2009, when they reached 76,021, falling to 66,705 last year.
Six hospitals have reported an increase in the number of births, with the largest rise in the National Maternity Hospital in Holles Street, Dublin, which was up by 5.6pc.
It had 9,023 births last year and 3,733 in the first five months of 2015.
The ongoing pressures on the National Maternity Hospital come as efforts are stepped up to relocate it to a new building on the grounds of St Vincent's Hospital in Dublin.
Meanwhile, separate figures show high rates of babies being born by caesarean section across several hospitals.
The national rate for the first five months of the year was 29.7pc.
However, it was as high as 37.8pc in Portiuncula Hospital and 37.7pc in South Tipperary Hospital.