Top medic warns over Cork University Maternity Hospital heat

Newborns, like red wine, thrive best at room temperature, but conditions at the country’s newest maternity hospital have been distinctly inhospitable in recent days.

While the labour rooms, theatres, and emergency department all have air- conditioning or temperature control systems at Cork University Maternity Hospital (CUMH), not so the wards housing mothers and babies.

Consultant obstetrician/gynaecologist Keelin O’Donoghue said the temperature gauge in the nursery measured 29.8ºC at the weekend and hit 30.8ºC at one of the nurses’ stations.

She said that while babies are never left in the nursery unsupervised, they are brought there for bathing and for heel-prick tests, or brought back for review, and that temperatures “are not acceptable at the moment”.

“It is certainly not comfortable for mothers and babies,” she said.

We tell the mums to have the babies at room temperature, therefore they are not protected in their environment as well as they should be.

“It is difficult, too, for staff who are, at times, exposed to quite physically demanding work.”

She said ward 3 East, which has 28 beds and eight single rooms, was particularly badly affected. She said the manager “has asked formally for air conditioning every year, including five weeks ago”, but there was never a formal response.

“I don’t know what the original justification for not installing air-con on the wards was, because when we opened in 2007, there were no concerns about costs,” said Dr O’Donoghue.

She said even during an “average” summer, parts of the building were uncomfortably hot.

Anywhere with machinery had temperature control systems, but not so all areas housing humans.

Dr O’Donoghue said she had been telling patients to keep blinds down and curtains closed, to limit visitors, and to stay hydrated. Some patients had brought in fans or mobile air-con units.

Mobile air-con units had also been installed at some of the nurses’ stations, Dr O’Donoghue said, but they were too small to be effective.

A spokesperson for the hospital said:

CUMH is very aware of the difficult conditions which are being experienced by both patients and staff due to the exceptional weather. Mobile air conditioning units have been installed. CUMH will continue to closely monitor ward temperatures while the current heatwave persists.

Dr O’Donoghue said that while there are some water fountains on the wards, no bottled water had been distributed to patients or staff during the heatwave — unlike at the Brown Thomas store in Cork, which gave bottled water to customers over the weekend.

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