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Maternity chief warns of overstretched services

THE master of one of the biggest maternity hospitals in the country warned the service was facing a "real challenge" from funding cuts as it copes with 9,000 births this year.

Dr Sam Coulter-Smith, master of the Rotunda Hospital in Dublin, said the hospital was set to go over budget by several million euro this year as it dealt with the rising birth rate.

He warned the facility was designed to deliver close to 7,000 babies but they expected 9,000 this year.

The chief medic expressed his concerns over stretched maternity services at a recent meeting with Health Minister James Reilly.

Dr Coulter-Smith said discussions were deferred until after a report was delivered into the planned building of the new National Children's Hospital, incorporating the maternity hospital, at the Mater Hospital site.

A spokesman at the Department of Health said the report of the independent review was expected to be on the minister's desk soon. However, he could not give an exact timeframe for publication.

He said the minister would meet the masters of the maternity hospitals after studying the review.

"He will be considering with them and the HSE any issues that may be arising in relation to maternity hospital-related services," he added.

Dr Coulter-Smith said he had informed Dr Reilly of the challenges and said the minister had been receptive to hearing about the issues facing the hospitals. "We need clarity so we can start planning properly to build an institution that can deal with 10,000-plus women giving birth a year with the capability of expanding," Dr Coulter-Smith said.

He pointed out that the Rotunda, which is also home to the sexual assault treatment unit and fertility services, had cut costs. However, it had been dealing with reduced staff, a smaller budget and 30pc more babies being delivered. "It is impossible to provide the level of care we would like to provide in that case," he said.

"It is a real challenge. I don't want to be scaremongering, the hospital is as safe as it has ever been. It is extraordinarily busy at times and it is down to the care and skill of the staff that it is as safe as it is."

In a 24-hour period, each of the nine labour wards at the hospital is used between three and four times.

"There is a queue to get into it and a queue to get out of it," he added. "It is a conveyor belt system but I would like it to move a little more slowly at times."

Irish Independent