The State’s health services watchdog has announced that new standards for maternity services are being introduced in the wake of a series of “high-profile failings”.
The standards, developed by the Health Information and Quality Authority, are to ensure the delivery of safe, high-quality maternity care.
Investigations conducted by Hiqa in recent years uncovered serious shortcomings in the maternity units of the Midlands Regional Hospital in Portlaoise, and University Hospital Galway.
Launching the standards in Dublin yesterday, Health Minister Simon Harris said he would be writing to the HSE later in the day to tell them to start “embedding” them now.
The National Standards for Safer, Better Maternity Services cover pre-pregnancy, pregnancy, labour, birth, and the postnatal period (up to six weeks).
However, assisted human reproductive services are outside the scope of the standards that are designed to apply to all maternity services.
The standards took 16 months to develop and were presented to Mr Harris in July. They are intended to support the national maternity strategy, published in January.
National patient safety office director Dr Kathleen MacLellan said they expect the HSE will begin an immediate phased implementation of the standards.
Hiqa’s director of standards and quality improvement, Marie Kehoe-O’Sullivan, said women, patient advocates, and frontline staff helped develop the standards that put women at the centre of what maternity services do.
“By promoting practice that is up to date, effective, and consistent, and based on best available evidence, they provide a framework of good practice for services to strive towards but also for women to understand what safe, high-quality maternity care looks like and what they should expect from a service,” she said.
Mr Harris said he believes that even in the years of economic boom, not enough investment was made in the country’s maternity services.
Last month an agreement was reached to move ahead to develop the National Maternity Hospital on the St Vincent’s University Hospital campus in Dublin.
Mr Harris recently attended a project board meeting where it was decided to submit the planning application at the start of next year for the new maternity hospital.
Talks with maker of CF drug continue
An update on negotiations over the price of a ground- breaking drug to treat cystic fibrosis is expected in the new year.
However, Health Minister Simon Harris refused to elaborate on how the talks were progressing between drug manufacturer Vertex Pharmaceuticals and the HSE. Price negotiations restarted between Vertex, the maker of the drug Orkambi, and the health authority two weeks ago. Hundreds of people had protested outside the Dáil over the delay in securing approval for the drug.
The minister said he had earlier this week talked to the Australian health minister, who said negotiations with the pharmaceutical company to make Orkambi available to Australian patients had been unsuccessful.
Mr Harris again accused Vertex of trying to extort Irish taxpayers in putting such a high price on Orkambi.
However, he was glad the talks were continuing.
“I know there was further engagement this week and I know there will be further engagements in the very early days of the new year as well.”
Mr Harris said he did not want to say anything that would in any way adversely impact on the negotiations. “I would suggest that it would be prudent for everybody to provide space for that engagement,” he said.
He made it very clear that engagement had to be meaningful after Vertex decided their final offer was not their last offer. It had to be about trying to make an innovative drug available to Irish patients, he said.
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