Staffing in maternity services is in crisis with ‘severe lack of confidence and under-investment’ in hospitals

There is a severe lack of public confidence and a chronic under-investment in the Irish maternity services, the Master of the Coombe has said.

Dr Sharon Sheehan, Master of the Coombe Women and Infants University Hospital, also said it was “completely unacceptable” that only some of our maternity hospitals offered foetal anomaly screening.

Dr Sheehan was speaking at a patient safety conference yesterday, hosted by the State Claims Agency.

“In my view, there are a number of factors that have to be addressed if we are to make any meaningful impact on improving quality and patient safety, staffing, training, the woman herself, our resources, leadership and governance and our severe lack of public confidence,” she said.

“In terms of resources, there is absolutely no doubt that the Irish maternity services, like many other services, have suffered from chronic under-investment.”

Dr Sheehan, in making her presentation, showed the high workload of consultant obstetricians in Ireland and the low staff count in some maternity hospitals.

“In terms of staffing it is absolutely of no surprise to anyone in the audience here that staffing in the Irish maternity services is in crisis and that the staff shortages are having a serious impact on staff morale,” she said.

“In terms of consultants, this graph shows that Ireland there, down at the bottom left-hand side of that graph, has the lowest number of consultant obstetricians per 100,000 women of every OECD country. We are Paddy last on that graph.

“I guess most staggering are the deficits we are seeing in the three Dublin maternity hospitals, whereby we are operating at a 17% deficit in the number of midwifery staff that we need to run our services. This must be addressed.”

She explained that unlike other medical procedures carried out in our hospitals, maternal care is demand-led with mothers giving birth around the clock and therefore “waiting lists” are of no use when it comes to alleviating pressures on the service.

The Master of the Coombe also addressed the dearth of foetal anomaly screening across Irish maternity hospitals.

“All 19 units must be offering the same standard of care, we have got to eliminate this postcode lottery that exists in terms of standards, whereby at the moment most of our 19 units, in fact, do not offer foetal anomaly screening, which in this day and age is completely unacceptable,” she said.

Dr Sheehan asked how “public confidence, that we have lost so badly over the last number of years” could be regained. She said it was a team effort across society and in particular asked the media to balance their negative coverage with the positive outcomes.

“With open disclosure and transparency we’ve got to restore public confidence for those patients who come into use our services every day,” she added.

Paperless hospitals

Cork University Maternity Hospital is leading the national way when it comes to digitising our healthcare system.

The hospital is due to go paperless next month.

“Imagine taking a completely paper-based solution and making it digital on Saturday morning when on Friday it was paper, that’s the intention in the hospital in Cork on October 22,” said the HSE’s chief information officer, Richard Corbridge.

Mr Corbridge was speaking at a patient safety conference in Dublin Castle yesterday, hosted by the State Claims Agency.

“Eight thousand man hours training in Cork, to get ready for that solution.

“The effort that hospital and the sister hospital in Kerry, put into this implementation is bigger than I have seen in any other health organisation,” he said.

He is also the CEO of eHealth Ireland and was giving a presentation on the digitisation of the Irish healthcare system

“It will take us 10 years to remove that paper across the entire healthcare system.

“Perhaps one of the biggest success stories of the last 18 months is electronic referral.

“Every single hospital in Ireland now is able to receive an electronic referral. Last month 40% of GPs used electronic referral and around 10,000 electronic referrals passed through the system.”

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