Saturday 19 October 2019

Rotunda MRSA outbreak in neo-natal intensive care unit contributed to deaths of babies

Rotunda Hospital.
Rotunda Hospital.

Eilish O'Regan and Gavin McLoughlin

An outbreak of the MRSA superbug in the neonatal intensive care unit at Dublin's Rotunda hospital contributed to the severity of illness suffered by two babies, who died due to complications of being born premature.

The outbreak struck from February to April in the cramped and outdated hospital building.

It was the eleventh infectious outbreak in the unit over two years which cares for the frailest babies, the Medical Independent reported.

Six infants were affected by MRSA and two died as a result of the complications of being born very premature.

However, MRSA played a role in the severity of their illness.

The hospital has an enhanced screening system in place to pick up babies who are affected and need to be isolated.

The unit has undergone a €2.1m revamp.

While this improves its appearance and fire safety, it does not provide additional space which is the biggest problem in reducing the spread of infection, said a spokeswoman.

The risk has emerged as the health service was delivered another setback this week when the Cabinet decided that release of funding for the 10-year Sláintecare plan - the blueprint for health reform - will be slowed down.

A major problem remains how heavily in the red the HSE is with a potential overspend of €600m-€700m this year.

This will necessitate another financial bailout later this year.

Doctors have warned this will mean key areas such as A&E overcrowding will continue to suffer.

In a further blow yesterday, Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe signalled the current levels of hiring of staff in the health service, of around 371 new employees a month, is not sustainable.

The cost is proving too high when the bill for pay deals and drugs are added in, he said.

Speaking at the launch of the Government spending review, he said the health budget for 2018 only provided for an additional 1,800 staff to be hired, around 150 a month.

Mr Donohoe said: "What is particularly noteworthy for me at the moment is the growth in recruitment that has taken pace in the health service across this year. We have seen in the first four months of this year additional recruitment equal to an additional 350 to 400 people being employed every single month.

"All of this creates an additional element in our wage bill which in turn is feeding through into the figures that I am acknowledging here today.

"I'm working now with [Health] Minister [Simon] Harris at the moment to look at what is the level of a supplementary estimate that will ensure our service commitments are delivered, while allowing me to deliver the deficit targets I have for the entire year."

Mr Donohoe confirmed the need for a bailout: "I'm confident that we will be able to deal with the trend that has developed in the HSE in the first half of the year, via a supplementary estimate that will allow us to meet the service commitments that we have." He also referred to proposals to appoint a board to oversee the HSE.

Irish Independent

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