Tuesday 16 January 2018

Mothers and babies just don't count

The closure of Mount Carmel will only make pregnancy in Ireland even more of a trial, writes Carol Hunt

In the dark: Staff members Patricia Kelly Maloney, left, and Eleanor Byrne at Mount Carmel. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
In the dark: Staff members Patricia Kelly Maloney, left, and Eleanor Byrne at Mount Carmel. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Carol Hunt

Carol Hunt

Welcome to post-compassion Ireland. Where banks are considered "too big to fail", bondholders are sacrosanct, massive pension pots to semi-State bosses just have to be paid, but pregnant women and their unborn babies can go fend for themselves. So much for protection during pregnancy.

One person described the scenes that took place this week at Mount Carmel Hospital as "like something you would see in Africa", and I can understand the horror and frustration that would lead to them to making such a comment.

It's not that long since the Master of the Rotunda made the comment that his maternity hospital was "not fit for purpose". It took the HIQA report into the death of Savita Halappanavar to reveal that most of the recommendations advised after the avoidable death of Tania McCabe and one of her twin sons were never implemented in many maternity hospitals.

The fact that some staff at Mount Carmel heard that the hospital they had worked in for years would be closed down in a fortnight or less, from relatives who texted them or journalists looking for their comments is beyond shameful. Reps from surgical companies who had loaned equipment to the hospital swarmed through the "operating theatres, emptying shelves of all their equipment".

Meanwhile, pregnant women wandered the corridors, wondering what was to become of them and their unborn babies. Others tried to call from home, some arrived at the front doors, distressed and confused.

Nothing like this has ever happened in Ireland before. Three hundred and 30 jobs will be immediately lost, leading to redundancies for people who want to work; more emigration, more people on social welfare, more mortgages heading for arrears, more pain and suffering for workers who just do not deserve this fate.

And what about the mothers-to-be? It is sometimes assumed that those who choose to "go private" when they are pregnant are well-off, pampered women, the type that would turn their noses up at the thought of having to share a hospital ward with people they don't know.

In my experience, the vast majority of women who opt to have their babies through the private system sacrifice much to pay the cost of it. I did it myself for both of my children. Both times, I started within the public system; both times the public system was unable to cope with difficulties which arose during the pregnancies. Both times my GP urged me to beg, steal or borrow the money for private care, terrified that it would all end in tears otherwise.

Last summer I revealed in a column the less-than-caring treatment I received after a miscarriage in an Irish public hospital. I was inundated immediately afterwards with stories from women all over the country who disputed the oft-repeated phrase that "Ireland is one of the best places in the world to have a baby in". It's not. Due to years of neglect, underinvestment and lack of staff in maternity hospitals, having a baby in Ireland is often not the joyous experience it should be. In many cases, it's an ordeal which has to be suffered.

The state of our maternity hospitals is a national shame to us all. Yet the Department of Health and the HSE have allowed the only private maternity hospital in the State to close, putting yet more pressure on to public resources already at emergency point.

Unbelievably, the department and the HSE decided that buying Mount Carmel – saving all those jobs and ensuring that women and their unborn children would continue to be cared for – would "unnecessarily expose the State and the health authorities to significant financial risk". Eh, banking guarantee, anyone?

So there you have it. Once again Ireland gives two fingers to its pregnant women. They can cope as well as they can within a decrepit system that is "not fit for purpose".

Irish Independent

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