Staff shortages and births boom hit care of ill babies

A COMBINATION of staffing shortages and booming birth rates has reduced the ability of the country’s third-largest maternity hospital to provide one-to-one nursing care to seriously ill babies.

With 35 fewer midwives than recommended and a record 9,000 births expected this year, the clinical director of Cork University Maternity Hospital (CUMH) said it can no longer guarantee a dedicated midwife for each baby in intensive care or one midwife for every two babies in special care.

In addition, Professor Richard Greene, consultant obstetrician/gynaecologist, said patients have occasionally had to be transferred to Dublin hospitals when it could not accommodate any more newborns in the neonatal unit, where just 37 out of 50 cots are in use since the hospital opened more than two years ago.

The staffing shortage and baby boom have also put pressure on:

* Antenatal appointments: The first time a pregnant woman with a “normal” pregnancy is likely to see an obstetrician is at 18 to 20 weeks, up from 16 to 18 weeks.

* Administration: A 40% reduction in administration staff since the hospital opened is affecting paperwork that forms an essential part of the clinical service. Desk staff have reduced at outpatient clinics, which up to 66,000 women are expected to attend this year.

* Consultant staff: There are 11.5 whole time equivalents despite a request for 17 since the hospital opened in March 2007.

* Planned deliveries have been deferred because of staff shortages.

Prof Greene said when the staffing numbers were originally put in place it was to deal with 7,000 deliveries, but this year at least 9,000 deliveries are expected.

He said he believed the hospital was providing an optimum service but maintaining that service would get harder as births continue to rise.

CUMH director of midwifery Geraldine Keohane, said the hospital was functioning well despite never having reached the recommended nursing complement of 376 since it opened.

Ms Keohane said that activity levels were assessed on a daily basis, and staff were deployed based on that assessment.


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