€850 bill for preterm baby’s stay in care unit

A woman whose medical card is under review had been hit with a bill for €850 for additional nights her premature baby spent in a special care unit, delegates attending the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation annual conference heard.

Waterford-based public health nurse Mary Leahy said the baby had effectively “been penalised for being born early” because his mother had lost her medical card entitlements while the review was under way.

Ms Leahy said the woman’s baby had been born extremely prematurely, weighing just 1.5kg, and had spent weeks in the special baby care unit.

The cost of care is covered for the first six weeks but, because the baby had to remain in for an additional 10 nights, the mother was billed.

“She was charged for the care of her infant at a cost of €85 a night for 10 nights,” Ms Leahy said. “She was never informed that she was going to get the bill.”

When she paid a home visit she found the woman “extremely unwell”, with “extreme pre-eclampsia”, “blood pressure up to the roof”, and “emotionally upset”.

Ms Leahy was speaking to a motion condemning and seeking the reversal of the “arbitrary withdrawal” of medical cards from patients with complex chronic health needs, the elderly, and vulnerable. The motion was unanimously passed.

A motion calling on the union to take a more proactive approach on bullying in the workplace was also passed. Delegates said that bullying and intimidation in the workplace was “rampant”.

Mary Love from Bantry said bullying was “the elephant in the room” in the health service, “fuelled by a hierarchical style of management” where bullying was viewed as a “sign of good management”.

Mary McCormack from Waterford said she was bullied by a colleague and her confidence was affected for years.

There was also some good news at the conference. Ambrose McLoughlin, secretary general for the Department of Health, told delegates that Health Minister Dr James Reilly had approved the establishment of a taskforce to develop a framework to determine staffing and skill mix requirements for the nursing workforce in a range of major specialities, starting with medical and surgical care settings.

The announcement was welcomed by INMO secretary general Liam Doran on the back of a conference dominated by concerns about safe staffing levels.

The taskforce will include representatives from the INMO and will look at the use of staffing ranges as opposed to staffing ratios to allow for more “flexibility”.

Mr Doran also welcomed the decision to appoint three deputy chief nursing officers to compliment the work of the country’s first chief nursing officer, Siobhán O’Halloran.

There was a nice gesture, too, in the minister’s decision to approve an initiative allowing eight Filipino nurses to return home on full pay for four weeks to undertake frontline relief work after typhoon Haiyan.

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