Baby Scandals: Staff at Cavan General had highlighted risks

Doctors and nurses repeatedly highlighted the risk to patients posed by theatre staff shortages at Cavan General Hospital where four babies died in the last two-and-a-half years, including a newborn earlier this week.

While the circumstances surrounding the latest death are unclear, there have been longstanding difficulties staffing a second theatre out-of-hours.

Just last week, the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) wrote to hospital managers warning there had been “at least four occasions” in as many weeks when the on-call team was already manning one theatre and a need arose to open a second involving patients who were either obstetric or surgical emergencies.

INMO industrial relations officer Tony Fitzpatrick said the process was to bleep the out-of-hours nurse manager who would either attend theatre themselves or seek staff from around the hospital. It was “indefensible”, Mr Fitzpatrick said, that management had not addressed the problem “considering that there has been adverse outcomes for patients”.

Similar issues were highlighted in a letter by two consultant obstetrician/gynaecologists on November 30, 2012, less than a week after Jamie Flynn of Navan, Co Meath, died in his mother’s arms at the Rotunda Hospital after being transferred from Cavan General. An inquest into his death last year heard allegations from consultant obstetrician Dr Salah Abdel-Aziz that he had delayed an emergency caesarean section due to the unavailability of nursing staff for the operating theatre .

The HSE did not respond to queries from the Irish Examiner in relation to theatre staff shortages, but did confirm that three external reviews are ongoing in relation to baby death cases.

Two babies died within three weeks of each other last year. In relation to the latest case, Alan Finan, clinical director of women and children’s services, HSE North East said management had taken “immediate action to review and investigate the incident in line with HSE policy”.

“All report recommendations arising from the review process will be implemented and any initial concerns identified have been immediately addressed,” Dr Finan said.

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