Limerick ward in ‘treacherous’ state

NURSES at a second maternity hospital have warned that the health of mothers and babies is at serious risk because of a staffing crisis.

Just one week after the Irish Nurses Organisation (INO) highlighted unsafe conditions in the maternity unit at Wexford General Hospital, it has emerged that a similar situation exists in the Mid West Regional Hospital in Limerick.

Yesterday INO industrial relations officer Edward Mathews said staffing levels were so inadequate that safe care could not be provided to mothers and babies throughout the hospital.

Night-time nursing cover in the hospital’s three main 30-bed wards consists of one staff midwife and one student midwife, said the INO.

“We have a situation where just two staff, one of them a student, are caring for approximately 30 patients with a myriad of clinical problems on night duty. This is a grossly unacceptable situation and it cannot be allowed to continue if we are to protect the future population,” Mr Mathews said.

The students are unable to administer medication or monitor foetal heart-beats during induction. If the qualified midwife has to go to the labour ward with an expectant mother, up to 30 patients are left in the care of a student.

Mr Mathews said the staff shortage also made it difficult to monitor mothers post caesarean section, a situation made worse by the national shortage of floating midwives to provide emergency cover.

The low clerical staffing levels in out-patients meant midwives only had time to log abnormal blood test results, which meant many normal results were not being kept on file. With only one operating theatre, the recovery room often had to double up as a second theatre. The hospital is also without security after 10pm, a situation which Mr Mathews said left mothers, babies and nurses without protection.

The shortcomings at the Limerick hospital were outlined already 18 months ago in a damning clinical risk management report and mirror many of the deficiencies in the Wexford hospital. However, the poor conditions still persist. The INO has blamed the crisis on tight budgetary control by the Mid Western Health Board.

It said its members were no longer prepared to work in such ‘treacherous conditions,’ and it has sought an urgent meeting with the health board.

The health board said it was awaiting a reply from the Department of Health on a review of services at the hospital in the past year, outlining priority needs in terms of capital investment and the increased staffing needs associated with the rise in births in the region.

It said the health board had moved on a number of critical areas, including the appointment of an additional consultant obstetrician/gynaecologist , an additional 18 midwives, two attendants and an extra doctor. A security contract was also put in place at the hospital.

A statement from the health board said it had been in discussions with the unions for some time in relation to an independent review of nurse staffing levels, however the INO had recently withdrawn from this review.

Meanwhile striking public health doctors will meet in Dublin today for a national briefing on the strike situation. The briefing will be followed by a meeting of the Irish Medical Organisation’s strike committee.

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