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Portiuncula: Concerns raised in October about the number of babies suffering lack of oxygen at birth

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Portiuncula Hospital, which is located in Ballinasloe, Co Galway

Portiuncula Hospital, which is located in Ballinasloe, Co Galway

Portiuncula Hospital, which is located in Ballinasloe, Co Galway

Concerns about the number of babies suffering lack of oxygen at birth in Portiuncula maternity unit were raised in October, but a top-level meeting to discuss it was not held until December.

The delay emerged after it was announced an independent investigation will be carried out into the deaths of two babies and the birth of five other infants who suffered lack of oxygen at the unit between February and November last year.

An internal review carried out in late November raised concerns about practices including foetal monitoring, the use of a drug to speed up labour and the use of instrumental delivery.

A spokesman for the hospital in Ballinasloe, Co Galway, said that a meeting of specialists did not take place until early December.

Asked why the parents of the babies were not contacted earlier, he said the hospital was in the process of informing them when "information was leaked to the media".

The hospital said that it was now "satisfied" that there was no continuing patient safety concern and external staff were providing regular updates on patient care to the clinical director, Dr Pat Nash.

The hospital said additional training had been provided to all maternity staff and extra senior supervision had also been provided to doctors and midwives.

Asked what was the extent of the training and how long did it last, the spokesman said the "training is ongoing".

A number of babies who suffered oxygen deprivation were brought to a Dublin maternity hospital for baby cooling to try to reduce the risk of brain damage.

This involves cooling the newborn to 32 degrees centigrade for 72 hours as soon as possible after birth.

It is still unclear if they have escaped brain damage. The independent inquiry will examine if they were sent for the treatment in the recommended time.

The inquiry, which will involve a midwife and obstetrician from outside the area, is expected to take around three months.

Confidence

Commenting on the concerns Health Minister Leo Varadkar said yesterday that he believed maternity care in Ireland was safe and said pregnant women should have confidence in the system.

He claimed that the rates of perinatal mortality - the death of babies at or around the time of birth - were on par with the best in the world.

"There are 60,000 pregnant women in the country at the moment and I don't want them to be worried.

"We are in no way concerned about maternity services here. The number of consultant obstetricians is higher than ever.

"We have gone from around 900 midwives to 1,500 in the last couple of years," he added.

Meanwhile, Roscommon-Leitrim TD Denis Naughton warned the inquiry must be transparent and independent of any other agenda, such as closure of the Portiuncula unit.

A helpline, at 090 9624 620, will be open tomorrow and Sunday between 9am to 5pm for anyone who has any concerns.

Irish Independent