We could have another Savita tragedy in the future, midwives warn

Midwives say unsafe staffing levels in maternity units around the country could lead to a repeat of the catastrophic systems failures that claimed the life of Savita Halappanavar.

Maureen Hanlon, a midwife at Mayo General Hospital, told delegates at the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation delegate conference in Donegal that “what happened in Galway could happen in any hospital in the country”.

“Every day I leave my job I say ‘Thank God the patients in my care are safe today’,” she said.

Adrienne Murphy, a midwife at Cork University Maternity Hospital (CUMH), said she was afraid of a similar tragedy in her workplace because of the pressure staff were under, largely due to the moratorium on staff recruitment.

Anne Burke, a clinical nurse manager at University Hospital Galway (UHG), said that maternity units were “winging it, every single day, in order to maintain some semblance of service to ante and post-natal women”.

“Ireland’s midwifery profession is, on a daily basis, holding the Irish maternity services together, but only on a shoestring.”

She said maternity units like CUMH, which has a birth rate in the order of 9,000 per year, have been grossly understaffed, despite a Labour Court recommendation in Feb 2011 to employ at least 80 additional midwives in order to maintain safe practice.

Ms Burke said the persistence of the moratorium, coupled with the loss of midwifery expertise due to retirements in Feb 2012, had left a national midwifery workforce “on its knees”.

“Midwives are working in these precarious, poorly-resourced situations every day of the week,” Ms Burke said, yet only made the headlines “when the risk has become an unfortunate tragedy and a reality”.

Separately, legal representatives for Savita Halappanavar’s husband, Praveen, will this week meet the head of a health service investigation into the circumstances leading to the death of his wife.

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