It will take at least another two years before ultrasound scans to pick up on foetal anomalies are available to all pregnant women in Ireland — and that’s only if funding is provided to hire one extra sonographer every fortnight.
In the meantime, the largest maternity unit in the West, which had extended the service to all women, says it may have to revert to partial access for select cases because of a staff shortage.
October 2019 has been set as the target date for the provision of full access to foetal anomaly scans but the HSE says that will depend on funding being made available to recruit and train 52 new sonographers.
Until then, as many as 20,000 expectant mothers a year may go through their pregnancy without an anomaly scan, leaving them in the dark about potentially life-threatening conditions until their baby is born.
AIMS Ireland, the Association for the Improvement of Maternity Services, called for recruitment to begin urgently, saying the gap in services was unacceptable.
Spokeswoman Krysia Lynch said: “It’s the inequity of it that’s glaring because there are some women who have full access to anomaly scanning and other women, who, because of where they live, don’t have that access. We need this as a matter of course for all women.”
Foetal anomaly scans are carried out at week 20-22 to check on the development of the foetus and identify problems which would not show up in the standard early dating scan. An Oireachtas committee has heard that without the later scan, problems can go undetected, leaving parents and medics unprepared and dealing with an emergency, and sometimes a tragedy, at birth.
Women in Dublin fare best but access is patchy in many parts of the country. In 2016, one in three pregnant women did not get an anomaly scan.
And now at University Hospital Galway, where successful efforts were made to provide full access, the service has taken a hit because of a staffing shortage.
The hospital said: “GUH has been experiencing challenges relating to staffing in our maternity ultrasound department since August this year which we are trying to address.
“To date, we have been able to maintain the current service provision of foetal anomaly scanning to any patient who had been booked while we try to recruit/replace trained sonographers. We may have to reduce the availability of these scans to some patients.”
The HSE has committed to providing 100% access and says it has requested funding for recruitment in 2018. It said autumn 2019 was the projected end date to have all staff, training and referral procedures in place but added: “Achieving the end date will be dependent on the resources required being made available.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved