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Tuesday 23 January 2018

Maternity wards struggling as mums drop private care

Siobhan O'Neill White with three of her children Mitchell (10), Summer (2), and April (6), at home in Bettystown. Ronan Lang
Siobhan O'Neill White with three of her children Mitchell (10), Summer (2), and April (6), at home in Bettystown. Ronan Lang
Breda Heffernan

Breda Heffernan

PUBLIC maternity services are under increased pressure following a dramatic fall off in those paying for private or semi-private care since the start of the recession. In some cases, private patient numbers are down 38pc.

This is resulting in increased numbers of public patients using the already strained service, as well as decreased revenue for the hospitals.

While consultants have slashed the private fees they charge, some maternity hospitals have more than doubled their semi-private fees as they seek to shore up lost revenue.

All women in Ireland are entitled to free maternity care and there has been a flood of women opting into the public system as they can't afford insurance or to pay private fees which can cost around €3,800.

It means the public service, also stretched by a baby boom, is under increased pressure.

Dr Rhona Mahony, master of National Maternity Hospital Holles Street, said, traditionally, around a quarter of the hospital's revenue was generated from private patients. However, private numbers are down by a third and the already busy public service is "under strain".


"That has meant a fall in revenue and it is putting big pressure onto our public side," explained Dr Mahony.

Holles Street has seen a 33pc reduction in private patients while semi-private numbers are down 8.8pc since 2008. Public patient numbers are up 15pc.

At the same time it has more than doubled its semi-private fees from €560 in 2008 to €1,200. It doesn't give details of private fees set by consultants.

The fall in private patients is being replicated in maternity hospitals around the country.

The Rotunda Hospital in Dublin has seen the number of women choosing its private and semi-private services fall by 29pc. Taking private patients alone, numbers are down 38pc.

During the same period, its semi-private fees have risen from €750 to €1,200. However, private fees set by individual consultants fell from a range of €3,000 – €4,500 in 2008 to €2,500 – €3,800 this year.

The Coombe Women and Infants University Hospital also in Dublin has also seen a marked rise in the numbers of women opting for public care, up from 63pc to just over 77pc.

It has not published the figures for how many private patients it had in 2012. However, it said they accounted for 12pc of total numbers last year, down from 23pc in 2008. The semi-private fee of €750 set by the hospital hasn't changed since 2008. This doesn't include the cost of ultrasound scans.

Dr Mahony said maternity hospitals are not able to cut back on their expenditure in order to deal with their losses.

"We are running at peak level at all times. We can't just close our gynae ward for the summer to save money.

"We have seen a significant decline in private bookings and this means a push onto our public side. This is a difficulty for us given that we are already burdened with large numbers."


'I thought more money meant better service'

MOTHER-of-four Siobhan O'Neill White knows better than most the ups-and-downs of maternity services.

She went semi-private for her first baby, private for her second and – unhappy with her experiences – decided to go public for her subsequent babies and had home births for both.

And while she admits that delivering a baby at home may not be for everyone, she felt more in control while saving thousands of euro to boot.

"I went semi-private for my first birth and it was not a good experience," recalls Siobhan (37) from Co Meath, who is mum to Mitchell (10), Robyn (8), April (6) and Summer (2).

"I rarely saw the same doctor at appointments and I did not get a semi-private room after my birth because none were available.

"I felt like a number, not a person.

"I went private on my second birth because I thought if I went private I would have a better, more positive experience.

"I thought paying more money would guarantee me a private service and that I would feel looked after, but I was wrong," she added.

"When I got to the hospital in labour, I could not have the epidural I asked for because there was no anaesthetist available, my doctor did not show up in time for the birth.

"And I did not get a private room afterwards because none were available and, despite all that, I was charged fully for what we did not get."

- Breda Heffernan

Irish Independent

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