HSE failure puts babies at risk
THOUSANDS of infants are at risk because of delays in getting crucial developmental checks and home visits from public health staff in many areas of the country.
Figures obtained by the Irish Independent reveal a number of blackspots around the country where the HSE is failing to meet its target of examining 95pc of all infants before they reach 10 months.
The HSE is obliged to provide a number of health checks to monitor the progress of infants.
These checks are designed to pinpoint developmental difficulties infants may be having, such as with their hearing or eyesight.
But a lack of public health nurses and doctors, poor systems for following up parents who fail to respond to first notifications and a failure to pool scarce resources are all contributing to delays.
Blackspots across the country include Co Wicklow, Co Limerick, Co Clare, north central Dublin, southern areas of Cork city, Co Laois and Co Offaly .
The data shows Wicklow had the worst record for providing timely health checks.
Of 171 babies in the county who reached the age of 10 months in October last year, just six out of every 10 had been screened within the recommended period.
Although the HSE region covering north Dublin and the north-eastern counties says it is actively coming up with solutions to improve screening times, the HSE South, which is responsible for services in Cork city, has refused to comment on its plans to tackle the issue.
The problem was first highlighted by the Irish Independent in February 2011, and although some improvements have been made, there is still serious concern about the monitoring of babies in several regions.
The issue is likely to become even more serious at the end of this month as scores of public health nurses and doctors take early retirement.
The figures also reveal a failure to ensure all new mothers and their babies are visited within 48 hours of returning home from hospital.
In Co Meath, just four in 10 mothers were visited by a public health nurse in the timeframe required last October, while in Dun Laoghaire less than six in 10 received the service within 48 hours.
Other regions well below target include Co Waterford, Carlow/Kilkenny and Cavan/ Monaghan.
Dr Jo Murphy-Lawless of the School of Nursing and Midwifery in Trinity College Dublin said the service by public health nurses was critical. "Public health nurses give women confidence and much needed support in those early weeks and months," she said.
Prof Tom Clarke, recently retired neonatologist at the Rotunda Hospital, Dublin, said: "Infants who are discharged early from hospital should be seen within 48 hours to detect significant jaundice and ensure that feeding is going well."
A spokesman for the HSE region covering the north-east and north Dublin said there may be contributory factors which would mean the first home visit did not take place within 48 hours.
A weekend or bank holiday may also delay the visit and nurses also needed to prioritise based on the availability of staffing, he said.
The HSE West said it was short of several public health doctors who carry out developmental checks and had not been able to replace them.