Maternity hospitals 'face major staff crisis'
Maternity hospitals are struggling with a staffing crisis at a time when they are faced with increasingly complex pregnancies, Coombe Hospital master Dr Sharon Sheehan has warned.
"The most staggering deficits are in the three Dublin maternity hospitals, where we are operating at a 17pc deficit in the number of midwifery staff that we need to run our services. This must be addressed."
Dr Sheehan was addressing a conference in Dublin yesterday on patient safety, organised by the State Claims Agency. It expects a record pay-out of €300m in medical negligence claims this year, driven mostly by compensation awards in obstetric cases.
Difficult pregnancies are on the rise because more women are obese and developing gestational diabetes or having babies at an older age after undergoing fertility treatment.
"In my view there are a number of factors that have to be addressed if we are to make any meaningful impact on improving quality and patient safety.
"They include staffing, training, the woman herself, our resources, leadership and governance as well as our severe lack of public confidence."
The main problem when it comes to staffing is not so much recruitment but retention, she added.
There was also the problem of mixed messages about hiring coming from the HSE the Department of Health and politicians.
Hospitals are also in difficulty because of laws regulating the working hours of junior doctors which means more trainees are less experienced and had less time to train.
Dr Sheehan said the perinatal mortality rate - deaths of babies at or around the time of birth - in Irish services is very good and the maternal mortality rate low.
But too often negative stories grabbed front pages and served to terrify expectant mothers and staff, she told the gathering.
Obstetrician Prof Michael Turner, the HSE's clinical lead in obstetrics, said he wants to see a national cerebral palsy register set up to understand more about causation and prevention.
Addressing the conference Health Minister Simon Harris said he expects legislation which will make it mandatory for health staff to own up to patients and relatives if they have made a mistake to be published in the autumn.
It will go before the Oireachtas health committee for discussion. The long-awaited National Patient Safety Office will open at the end of the year.
"I am absolutely committed to making sure that the patient experience is listened to," he added. Part of its work of the new office will involve a national survey of patient's experience next year.
Dr Dubhfeasa Slattery, head of clinical risk at the State Claims Agency, said one of the issues highlighted in a safety review was the problem of out of date equipment.
There is a need for hospitals to replace this equipment and get involved in leasing arrangements if necessary, she said.