Last year, 391 women from Kerry gave birth in Cork hospitals and 31 in Limerick, while there were over 1,450 births in Tralee.
Dr Mary McCaffrey, a consultant obstetrician/gynaecologist at Tralee General Hospital, told a public meeting that the hospital had one of the best maternity services in the south. She said the expansion of maternity services was pivotal to attracting specialist clinics, adding that the experience in Bantry, since the maternity unit closed there, was that visiting consultants simply did not come to the hospital.
Dr McCaffrey stressed she was speaking personally at the meeting, organised by the Kerry Women’s Forum arising from concerns for the future of the hospital in Tralee.
Plans for a new, self-contained maternity unit were being submitted to the Department of Health, as the present maternity unit, built in the 1970s, was bursting at the seams and built for a different era, the meeting heard.
Dr McCaffrey said there was no question of closing the maternity unit in Tralee, but the new unit would only open if the public stopped moving out.
A record number of women, 1458, up from a low of 1,138 in 1998, gave birth in Tralee last year. A small number were asylum seekers and a small number came from other counties.
The trends outward were slightly down, but were still high, despite the dramatic improvements in the hospital’s maternity service since 1998.
Some 201 Kerry women gave birth at the Bon Secours Hospital, Cork, last year, compared with 236 the previous year and there were 190 Kerry births at other Cork hospitals. Some 31 Kerry women gave birth at Limerick General Hospital.
Dr McCaffrey said there were historical reasons, allied to low staffing levels, a lack of an epidural service, and a lack of specialist clinics, why the Tralee unit had suffered a bad reputation over the years.
However, the maternity unit now has three consultant obstetricians/gynaecologists, 36 midwives, five registrars and a number of junior doctors. There was also a 24-hour epidural service and documentation showed that women in the 1990s went where epidurals were available.
Thomas Livingstone, of the Monaghan Hospital Retention Committee and grandfather of the late premature baby, Bronagh Livingstone, whose mother was refused treatment at Monaghan General Hospital, attended the meeting.
He warned people not to take their eye off the ball, claiming that the downgrading of Monaghan could happen to any county’s hospital.