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Grieving mothers who lose babies forced to share wards with healthy newborns


Dr Sam Coulter Smith

Dr Sam Coulter Smith

Dr Sam Coulter Smith

WOMEN whose baby has died are having to share wards with mothers and their newborns because of the poor conditions in some maternity hospitals.

And pregnant women who are miscarrying can find themselves seated next to a mother with a child in  a buggy.

The stark scenarios were revealed today by the masters of the Rotunda and Coombe maternity hospitals, Dr Sam Coulter Smith and Dr Sharon Sheehan when they appeared before the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children.

Dr Coulter Smith said that  over the  last two to three years maternity services in Ireland have consistently been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons, there have been numerous high profile cases reported in the news, multiple investigations with associated recommendations, high profile coroner’s inquests, a variety of HIQA and independent reviews.

“It has now reached a point where the confidence of the public has been severely shaken and the quality of the services provided to our mothers and babies is questioned in the media on an almost daily basis. Much of the reporting has been sensationalist and out of context. Such stories are understandably frightening for prospective mothers and families.”

He said if  one looks at Ireland’s maternity outcome measures of performance the overall figures are very good with perinatal (baby) mortality rates at extremely low levels, our maternal mortality outcomes are also very good. Both compare very favourably when bench marked with other developed countries.

“In fact when comparisons are made between services internationally our outcomes are excellent when you take into account the staffing levels and the poor quality of the infrastructure from which our staff deliver the service. Ireland is close to the bottom of the list when it comes supporting our maternity services.”

However, he warned :”In Ireland over 70,000 babies deliver annually, this is a figure which has increased significantly over the last 10 years. Despite multiple Maternity Strategy reports commissioned by the Dept of Health and the HSE, there has been little or no progress in developing new and up to date facilities for the provision of services. Even though demand and numbers have started to even off and reduce in some areas we are still 25pc busier then we were in 2006.”

Hospitals have suffered severe budget cuts and are struggling with understaffing as a result of the moratorium on recruitment and the the exodus of staff abroad.

Patients in different parts of the country do not have equity of access to subspecialist services, for example only in the bigger teaching hospitals with recognised fetal medicine specialists are patients offered routine 20 week anatomy screening scans, he said

“In the tragic situation where a baby dies only in the bigger hospitals will the dedicated bereavement team be called in and a dedicated perinatal pathologist be available to do a post-mortem to get the best information as to what the cause of death may have been. Our sickest mothers are often transferred to the Dublin maternity hospitals, but none of us are collocated with acute adult hospitals, we do not have.

Intensive care beds onsite, we do not have access to the most modern imaging techniques. This inequity of access to services and the requirement to transfer our sickest patients often separating them from their babies needs to be addressed.