Staff ban ‘puts mums and babies at risk’

Women and newborns are at risk of serious medical problems because the recruitment ban is forcing them out of maternity units early and without adequate after-care support.

The claim was made on the final day of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation’s annual conference, after delegates called for an independent review of staff levels in the sector.

Retired assistant director of midwifery at Cork University Maternity Hospital, Mary Higgins, said recently that national management still expected maternity services to provide the same level of care as before the 2007 recruitment ban.

The board member of the International Confederation of Midwives, said hospitals like CUMH were so under-staffed two women in labour often had to share one midwife. As a result, she said, hospitals were increasingly sending new mothers and babies home early to clear space, with the equally stretched after-care community service also struggling to cope.

“My argument would always have been that if I needed X staff in 2007, I still need them in 2012,” she said.

“CUMH was built for a maximum of 7,500 [births], and we have run on average at 8,500-plus every year since 2008 [when it opened]... Women are being discharged from maternity hospitals early because of this, without supports,” she said.

The conference also heard from Letterkenny General Hospital nurse Geraldine O’Connor, who said medical staff were “taking painkillers to get to sleep at night” due to the stress of frontline work.

Responding to claims hospital managers were massaging emergency department trolley counts by hiding patients when numbers were checked, Health Minister Dr James Reilly said: “If there’s anecdotal reports of hiding patients in various places, I’d be very interested to investigate each and every one of them. This is not about changing the surface of the thing.”

The comments were made after Tallaght Hospital nurse Teresa Hayes said 399 trolley patients were placed in different wards during counts there in February.

Meanwhile, the National Ambulance Service Representatives Association said the situation of a seriously injured Carlow GAA player was due to a flawed management bid to improve services. Yesterday, the Irish Examiner reported that Shane Webb was forced to endure a seven-hour wait for hospital care after breaking his leg.

The delay included a series of calamitous ambulance journeys.

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