Leo Varadkar, the health minister, says there are no plans to close any of the 19 maternity units across the country.
“It is not proposed to close any of them,” he said when he launched Ireland’s first national maternity strategy yesterday.
It was developed following a number of baby deaths at Midland Regional Hospital, Portlaoise, and the death of Savita Halappanavar at University College Galway in October 2012 following a miscarriage.
Mr Varadkar said a new model of care would involve linking bigger hospitals with all of the smaller maternity units, which do not have a lot of births.
Portlaoise Hospital has already been linked with the Coombe Women’s Hospital in Dublin — the hospitals signed a memorandum of understanding last March.
Mr Varadkar said linking smaller units with one of the big university or teaching hospitals would ensure that they were adequately staffed and staff rotated.
Networking the smaller units with a bigger centre would also ensure standards and quality of care were upheld.
The strategy recommends that dedicated emergency obstetric teams be provided in each maternity unit.
Mr Varadkar said that improving maternity services was not just about infrastructure and staffing, it was also about giving mothers more choice and looking after their health and wellbeing.
“It’s going to cost about €52m to implement over the next 10 years — an extra €9m a year in the initial years,” he said.
“The best thing about this is that it is practical, achievable, and affordable and I am determined to drive its implementation.”
Under the strategy, the number of consultant obstetrician/gynaecologists will increase by 10 a year; and the number of midwives by more than a 100 a year. Therapists, dieticians, and public health nurses will also be appointed. The strategy points out the Clinical Programme for Obstetrics and Gynaecology wants the number of obstetricians/gynaecologists to increase over a phased period, rather than recruiting a large number.
Each mother will be offered choices about her care according to whether the pregnancy is normal, medium, or high-risk and their care will be delivered by a particular team. Every woman will have a named lead healthcare professional who will have overall clinical responsibility. A 1:1 midwife to woman ratio is recommended.
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