Larger hospitals to deal with high-risk pregnancy cases
Women with complex pregnancies will be sent to larger maternity units to deliver their babies, in the interests of safety.
The plan is set out in the first National Maternity Strategy launched by Health Minister Leo Varadkar yesterday, with the aim of improving services for mothers and babies in the next 10 years.
Under the strategy, costing €52m in the next decade, none of the smaller maternity units around the country will close but they will not deal with complex cases.
Instead, they will link up with larger units and hospitals where women who need a higher level of care will be sent.
The plan, drawn up by a steering group which included two mothers who lost babies in Portlaoise Hospital, will be aimed at giving women more choice.
Mr Varadkar said: "The aim is to move away from hospital-only care. Currently, 99pc of women have their babies in hospital.
"It is always done in the labour ward with the direction of a consultant.
"This allows for new pathways. There will always be a multi-disciplinary team involved but more often than not the care will be delivered by a midwife.
"They will be going more into the community than they are now."
The idea is that women who are low risk can give birth in midwife-led units which are in birthing centres near maternity units.
Women who are deemed medium to high risk will give birth under the care of obstetricians and midwives.
Holles Street obstetrician Dr Peter Boylan, who is President of the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said he believed the new strategy is achievable and the next step is to set out the pathways which will make it happen.
"The principle of choice of birth experience is welcome, but the proposal to construct 'alongside birth centres' adjacent to standard labour rooms may present practical problems."
The strategy proposes:
■ A woman's choice in pregnancy and childbirth should be facilitated.
■ An additional 10 obstetricians and gynaecologists will be appointed annually from 2017.
■ Another 100 midwives will be hired each year.
■ The provision of high-quality ultrasound services in all maternity units, to include a first trimester and 20-week scan to all mothers.
■ A separate budget for all development funding for maternity services to be ring-fenced.
Roisin Molloy, whose baby son Mark died in Portlaoise Hospital in 2012, welcomed the plan and said she was particularly pleased to see patient safety was a theme throughout all the changes.
She said the greatest apology she and other mothers could get is for the strategy to be implemented.
"We need Ireland to be a safer place for mothers. That is what I believed in 2012 when I went into hospital and gave birth to Mark. Unfortunately, it was not true," she said.
Shauna Keyes, whose baby also died in Portlaoise, paid tribute to the late Savita Halappanavar and her husband Praveen, who fought to find out the truth behind her death.
Ms Keyes said she is already seeing improvements in maternity care and she is no longer angry at the service.