Four of Ireland’s maternity hospitals were found to not have adequate isolation services amid concerns that pre-term babies could become the latest casualties of space constraints in acute facilities.
The Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA) also said that Irish neonatal services are suffering consultant shortages as well as a lack of cots and incubators for babies born with complex needs.
Failure to meet the required standards amid the Covid-19 hospital backlog is putting those infants at serious risk of cross-infection.
Ireland now has the lowest number of consultant paediatricians on a population basis compared with England, Scotland, Australia and New Zealand. Only 37 of the approved 41 permanent consultant neonatology posts in public hospitals are filled on a permanent basis.
Approximately 10pc of all babies born every year are admitted to neonatal units but most of these are now struggling to deliver the required levels of care.
A long-standing problem, a report last February from the Health Information and Quality Authority found that neonatal cots were being placed too close together, increasing the risk of cross-infection between infants in these units.
Given the current crisis, the IHCA says that these isolation facilities are now critical for managing care for infants and parents in line with international guidelines.
Infants of Covid-19-infected mothers should initially be isolated if they require admission to a neonatal unit.
But without adequate investment to create the additional space, consultants warn that the risk of transmission of infection will remain “dangerously high.”
Rotunda Hospital consultant neonatologist Dr Michael Boyle gave his reaction to the findings as part of the #CareCantWait.
“There are significant challenges as I would see it from my perspective such as access to intensive care beds,” he said.
“We would occasionally find that we are unable to accept a referral from another hospital because we don’t have the space or the staff to care for them and that is an awful position to be in.
“We are firefighting, we’re dealing with the issues as they present on the day. It’s a challenge to improve a service when you can’t focus on the longer-term elements that you’d like to develop.”