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Eilish O'Regan: 'Dignity and respect cost nothing - but both can be mislaid in an overstretched maternity hospital ward'


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There have been so many so-called "watershed" reports on Irish maternity hospitals in recent years the public might wonder what is to be learned from yet another examination of care.

Damning inquiries into baby deaths at Portlaoise and Portiuncula Hospitals have already been delivered, and have exposed serious safety failings.

Yet the ongoing disenchantment and sense of emotional bruising about their maternity service experience, articulated by many women on RTÉ's 'Liveline', shows much work needs to be done to turn this tide of criticism.

It's why yet another report - the first survey of maternity services asking women who have been through the system about their experience and insights - will be invaluable in getting the nationwide feedback which is needed.

It is being carried out by the Health Information and Quality Authority, the patient safety watchdog, which has a history of doing these investigations well and not pulling punches.

It is due to take place early next year.

What is known is maternity services are overstretched due to understaffing and outdated buildings.

The baby boom may be over but staff are coping with more complex cases, supported by outmoded medical equipment and the overhanging shadow of potential litigation.

In the desperate quest for safety it is easy for staff to forget the odd kind word or need for reassurance.

It is unclear how widespread the feelings expressed by women on radio are but they reflect a sense of being abandoned and impersonal care.

The old problem of a culture of high-handedness and bossiness that was such a mark of maternity services may still be present.

According to Krysia Lynch, chair of the Association for the Improvement of Maternity Services in Ireland: "Improvements to our maternity services could certainly benefit from additional resources.

"What is needed in addition to more funding is a compassionate, dignified, kind, consensual, respectful maternity service that genuinely puts the pregnant person at the centre of their care."

She points out: "There is no doubt that clinicians mostly do their best with limited resources, but many of the issues raised by maternity service users have absolutely nothing to do with funding.

"They are about dignity and respect. These cost nothing but are in short supply in our maternity services."

The back-to-basics effort by the Royal College of Physicians, to get acting coaches to help obstetricians communicate better, is at least a welcome acknowledgement of the need for change.

Irish Independent