Staffing safety fears sparks maternity crisis

FEARS of a national maternity crisis mounted last night after consultants in Limerick’s only public maternity hospital warned they may be forced to turn women away because they do not have enough staff to ensure safe deliveries.

The warning comes days after the National Maternity Hospital in Dublin was forced to announce a cap on the number of babies it could deliver due to overcrowding and safety fears.

Tralee General Hospital has also expressed fears about its maternity services, which were described as “potentially dangerous”.

The Irish Nurses Organisation has warned that the lack of midwives in hospitals is “putting mothers and their babies at risk”.

A cap on deliveries in Limerick would have enormous consequences in the Mid-Western Health Board region as Limerick Regional Maternity Hospital (LRMH) is the area’s only public maternity hospital.

Consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist Dr Gerry Burke said unless consultant numbers are increased, LRMH may be forced to cap deliveries or go on strike. “I would say that access to consultants at our hospital is just about the lousiest in the whole of Britain and Ireland,” Dr Burke added.

LRMH has six consultants for every 4,500 births compared with 11 consultants for approximately 8,500 births at Holles Street. Dr Burke said the Institute of Obstetrics and Gynaecology guidelines recommend a consultant/patient ratio of one per 500 women to ensure safe deliveries.

“One consultant for every 750 births (in Limerick) does not ensure the standards of care that people expect. The department has known about this problem for years, and about the expecting rise in births, yet they have done nothing about it.

“In Limerick, we desperately need another three consultants, more midwives and ideally a new building close to the main hospital as it is frankly dangerous to be driving babies four miles for intensive care and access to expert consultants,” he said.

Tralee General Hospital obstetrician and gynaecologist Dr Mary McCaffrey warned that its maternity services “were under enormous strain”.

“Our current working conditions have become potentially dangerous due to soaring birth rates and action must be taken by the department,” she said.

The Department of Health is examining a clinical risk review on LRMH, funded by medical insurers Medical Protection Union (MPU), which denounced consultant rates and facilities at the hospital.

A spokesperson for the Mid-Western Health Board said the hospital was very busy but it did not intend to cap the number of births.

An operating theatre and two labour wards are due to be opened at the hospital shortly, she said.

Labour health spokeswoman Liz Mc Manus said the Government had “both the time and the resources” to sort these problems.

FG’s Liam Twomey said it “didn’t take a genius to see that with increased births, maternity services needed investment”.

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