Baby Scandals: Hiqa: Impossible to say all hospitals are safe

The State health watchdog has refused to say every maternity hospital in the country is safe.

Amid controversy over baby deaths, the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) said it was up to the HSE to stand over its hospitals.

Before an Oireachtas committee hearing into the Midland Regional Hospital in Portlaoise, Hiqa chiefs were pressed as to whether expectant mothers were safe going to the hospital.

Mary Dunnion, acting director of regulation at Hiqa, said it was impossible to say so.

“I don’t think anybody can say every hospital is safe, because risk is inherent in all clinical services,” she told TDs and senators.

Ms Dunnion said Hiqa consulted obstetrics experts about the Portlaoise hospital as part of its latest probe, which led to a scathing report into care at the facility which was released last week. It found a “majority” of expectant mothers were safe because they were normal and healthy.

However, she said there was concern for pregnant women considered “at risk” and in need of a possible transfer to another hospital for expert care.

The intensive care unit at Midland Regional Hospital was a “poor facility” and “not conducive” to modern- day standards, she added.

The remarks came as another investigation was launched into the death of a baby at Cavan General Hospital, which Hiqa said it was not asked to investigate despite four newborn babies dying there within two and a half years.

Despite calls last May by former health minister James Reilly for an independent inquiry, Hiqa said no formal request was made by the Government.

Phelim Quinn, Hiqa CEO, told the Oireachtas hearing it was planning a “governance review” of Midland Regional Hospital last year after receiving unsolicited information which sparked “significant concerns”.

However, revelations about the deaths of five babies at the hospital in an RTÉ investigation then prompted a full inquiry.

Mr Quinn said since Hiqa was set up in 2007, it carried out seven statutory investigations, most of the work being reactive.

These resulted in a series of recommendations to the HSE and Department of Health.

Mr Quinn said there had been “significant deficits” in the uptake and implementation of recommendations.

Hiqa confirmed it did not launch its own independent inquiry into newborn deaths at the hospital.

“We were not asked to,” a spokesman said.

Hiqa said following concerns about baby deaths at the time, it included Cavan in its “programme of monitoring of compliance with national healthcare standards”.

On Monday, the HSE revealed a baby died after being born in Cavan General Hospital, following two newborn deaths last year and one in late 2012.

“Cavan General Hospital can confirm that a baby sadly died in the maternity department,” the HSE said.

“Cavan and Monaghan Hospital management would like to offer its deepest sympathy to the family on their tragic loss and hope they will be given the privacy that they need to deal with their grief. The hospital will give the family every assistance and support required.

“As is normal practice a full review of the circumstances surrounding the death will be carried out.”

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