Hospital reveals safety fears amid baby boom
THE master of one of the biggest maternity hospitals in the country admitted he has "grave concerns" over safety, as the ongoing baby boom puts huge pressure on a cash-strapped system.
Dr Sam Coulter-Smith, master of the Rotunda Hospital in Dublin, spoke out as the hospital struggles to cope with a 40pc surge in births since 2006.
The chief medic stressed the hospital remained a safe facility, and he didn't want to "scare people".
But he said that the outdated facilities and stretched staff could cope only with a certain number of emergency cases at any one time.
"I would have grave concerns over quality and safety. I don't want to scare people," he said.
The hospital has seen births soar to 9,300 last year and a similar number forecast for 2012.
But despite an average of 25 births a day, there are only nine delivery rooms. The National Children's Hospital was supposed to incorporate maternity facilities -- but after hitting planning problems, it is still unclear where and when the new hospital will be built.
Now, Dr Coulter-Smith said the HSE was examining the reduction of staff numbers at the Rotunda, from 735 to 700.
"We can't operate at that level. I think at this point they should know that. To deliver 9,500 women safely, you need a certain number of midwives, doctors and support staff," he said.
"The big issue is how are we going to maintain the level of activity with reduced resources and head count," the master said. "Safety concerns me everyday -- when there are multiple cases of emergency at the same time, how are we going to deal with that?"
He also pointed out that the hospital dealt with miscarriages and other health issues, as well as births. It handles about 20,000 cases per year.
The Irish Independent has previously revealed problems in the hospital, such as its gynaecology ward serving as an "overflow" for both pregnant and post-natal mothers. It meant that women who had lost the baby in early pregnancy had to endure being in the same ward as mothers who gave birth to healthy newborns.
"Space is a real challenge; we have been able to deliver some space through moving things around," said Dr Coulter-Smith.
But he added: "You should only be delivering women in labour rooms, not in emergency departments or wards."
Dr Coulter-Smith said the problems at the Rotunda were replicated in maternity facilities across Dublin. But he felt it was most acute for the Rotunda as the hospital served a catchment area of Dublin North and the Naul, which has the fastest rising birth rate in Europe.
But against that backdrop, the hospital is also facing recording a deficit of €2m to €2.5m by year-end. "We did face a deficit last year but we were able to deal with it though one-off savings. It will be difficult to reach a break-even point this year," he said.
The hospital's budget has been cut from €53.3m in 2009 to €40.2m for 2012. An HSE spokeswoman said all the hospitals were required to produce plans based on their allocated maximum number of staff posts and allocated budget each year.