Revealed: 59 'serious' childbirth incidents
Disturbing new HSE figures heap more pressure on maternity units
The Health Service Executive has logged 59 "serious incidents" across the country's maternity units in the past three years, new figures reveal.
Reviews into 10 of the "serious incidents" have been completed by the health service, while 49 reviews are still ongoing, the Sunday Independent has learnt.
The "issues under review" are so serious they were "escalated" for investigation by head office, according to the HSE. The incidents include "poor outcomes for both mother and baby", "still births", "poor experience during delivery", "neo natal and maternal deaths" and "therapeutic hypothermia" - cooling of the newborn baby.
The revelations will raise further questions about standards in Irish maternity units which have come under scrutiny following a series of scandals, most recently in Portiuncula Hospital, Ballinasloe, where two babies died as a result of oxygen deprivation at birth.
The HSE released the latest information to the Sunday Independent in response to a Freedom of Information request on the numbers of reviews and internal inquiries underway at the country's 19 maternity units. The HSE said it "doesn't conduct internal inquiries" but conducts "aggregate reviews and systems analysis investigations". It refused to release copies of the reviews for "confidentiality" reasons.
In a response prepared for the Sunday Independent, the HSE said it searched a national database that collates serious incidents on March 19 this year. The search "revealed a total of 59 individual and aggregate reviews since January 1, 2012... of which some relate to neo natal and others to maternity cases".
The document said not all of the cases under review related to childbirth, but could also include still births, miscarriage and complications during or after delivery. It said that there were 44 reviews into individual cases and two "aggregate" reviews at Portiuncula and at the Midland Regional Hospital in Portlaoise.
The HSE said that from November 2012, "incidents that result in death or serious harm" are "escalated nationally". They are investigated using a "systems analysis method", which is based on collecting all the data, through both records and interviews, establishing a chronology of events, identifying the factors that contributed to the incident, and making recommendations.
The new figures come at a time when the State's maternity services have come under intense scrutiny following a number of scandals over care standards.
The HSE was inundated with so many complaints last year, following the baby deaths at Portlaoise hospital, that it set up a review panel to assess them. The panel has examined 80 baby deaths over many years and found that 30 cases required further investigation.
In a statement this weekend, the HSE said: "This review is still in progress and the HSE will communicate with families in the near future in relation to its progress."