Governance of the entire Irish maternity service was called into question on Twitter in the aftermath of an RTÉ programme examining perinatal deaths at the Midlands Regional Hospital in Portlaoise.

Analysis of Twitter activity over a two-month period from the time Fatal Failures was aired on RTÉ’s Primetime on January 30, 2014, found tweeters “perceived the Irish maternity services as unsafe”.

In fact the researchentitled Reaction on Twitter to a Cluster of Perinatal Deaths: A mixed method study identified “such a level of dissatisfaction with the governance that a demand for a criminal investigation was called for”.

The study authors — based at the National Perinatal Research Centre and the Pregnancy Loss Research Group at University College Cork — said their work “underscores the challenges that clinicians face in light of an obstetric media scandal”.

The authors conducted a quantitative and qualitative analysis of the relevant tweets during the two-month period, identifying some 3,577 tweets from 1,276 users on five key themes: emotional reactions; cover-ups; accountability and governance; institutional responses; and unsafe maternity services.

The authors found “at the height of the controversy, Twitter updates generated skepticism in relation to the management of not only the unit in question [Portlaoise], which was branded as unsafe, but also the governance of the entire Irish maternity service”.

“Themes of concern and uncertainty arose whereby the professional motives of the obstetric community and staffing levels in the maternity services were called into question,” the research authors said.

Moreover, “Tweeters indicated that they believed the hospital management’s priority was to cover up the events surrounding the perinatal deaths rather than focusing on the appropriate care for the patients”.

An examination of the profile of tweeters found they were broadly grouped into parent; media outlet; media personnel; politics; and health.

Profiles which identified the user as either a media outlet or personnel working for a media outlet accounted for over one-third.

Of the profiles related to health care, just one in five identified as either a midwife or a nurse and 14% as a medical doctor or consultant.

However, “none were from the field of obstetrics and gynaecology” — the area of medical expertise under scrutiny.

The study also found that Twitter was “not utilised as a platform by any health care authority to release a statement in relation to the perinatal deaths”, that instead the initial response “utilised traditional methods of communication to inform the public that the maternity services were safe”.

In conclusion, the authors said a further study could be beneficial “to identify how the obstetric community could develop tools to utilise Twitter to disseminate valid health information”, at a time when pregnant women want to interact with others online rather than “passive viewing” of books and leaflets.

The article appeared online this week in JMIR Publications.

To read the full study, log onto publichealth.jmir.org/2016/2/e36/


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