Calls for block on pregnant travellers

HEAVILY pregnant women should not be permitted to travel by air or sea to Ireland because of the health risk to both mother and baby, medical experts warned yesterday.

The masters of the country's three main maternity hospitals have called on the Government to impose travel restrictions on heavily pregnant women. Their request is in light of the number of "near death" situations many non-nationals are exposing themselves to in a desperate bid to have their baby here.

Master of the National Maternity Hospital at Holles Street, Dr Declan Keane, said there have been two cases recently where a woman delivered at Dublin port and another in the ambulance from the airport.

"These women were obviously in labour when they got on the aeroplane or ferry and disguised their distress. If Irish women are asked for a letter from their doctor before they get on a plane, how can women from Lagos get on a plane at 40 weeks?" Dr Keane said.

"There is no direct flight from Lagos to Ireland so many of these women are travelling for days and we have no idea of their medical history when they arrive. I feel it will take an accident or a death for the travel companies to respond to this issue," he added.

He said the influx of heavily pregnant asylum seekers had not been reduced despite the Supreme Court ruling which said while all children born here were automatically entitled to citizenship and residency, their parents were not.

Between January and June of 2002, 15% of all deliveries in Dublin were to non-nationals. This year non-nationals account for 20% of all deliveries, Dr Keane said.

"Based on the number of deliveries in the first six months, the three maternity hospitals (Holles Street, the Rotunda and the Coombe), estimate that between 5,800 and 6,000 non-national women will give birth this year.

That is enough for a large maternity hospital in Europe and if the levels of birth rates continue we will need a fourth maternity hospital in Dublin to cope with demand," he said.

Last year Holles Street delivered 8,162 babies the first time in 20 years that more than 8,000 mothers gave birth there.

Birth rates at the hospital are already up 5.9% on this time last year, putting the hospital on track to deliver 8,644 babies by the end of 2003.

"We were overstretched last year and the situation is even worse this year. We have more and more patients and no resources to hire extra staff to look after them. That means cutting corners. If you cut corners then safety is an issue," Dr Keane said.

Aer Lingus and Ryanair said they do not carry women who are more than 36 weeks pregnant.

A spokesman for Stena Line ferries said he had no memory of any woman giving birth on board and felt there would be "civil liberties issues" if they refused women on the basis that they were pregnant.

However, he said the company would consider its position in light of the statement from the maternity hospitals.

The Department of Justice said it was up to immigration officers at points of entry into the country to decide if someone was entering the country illegally and act accordingly.

Up to 28 weeks: Aer Lingus and Ryanair will carry a pregnant woman without a doctor's certificate. Ryanair handling staff may request the individual to sign an indemnity confirming that they are less than 28 weeks pregnant.

28 to 36 weeks: Ryanair requires a doctor's certificate confirming the passenger is fit and healthy and specifying the baby's due date.

Up to 32 weeks: Aer Lingus will carry a pregnant woman on long-haul or European flights.

32 to 36 weeks: Aer Lingus requires a doctor's certificate and will only carry a pregnant woman on domestic or flights to and from Britain.

36 weeks and over: Aer Lingus and Ryanair will not carry a pregnant woman.

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