Fate of five newborns deprived of oxygen ‘unclear’

Whether the babies deprived of oxygen during delivery at Portiuncula Hospital will suffer long-term effects is unclear — but despite the uncertainty around the five cases, the health minister has reassured women that maternity services are safe.

Fate of five newborns deprived of oxygen ‘unclear’

Consultant cardiologist Pat Nash, who is also clinical director of the Saolta Hospital Group which includes Portiuncula, said because the five babies are all very young “we still don’t know the long-term outcome and it’s too early to determine that at the moment”.

Two babies died and five more had evidence of oxygen deprivation (hypoxia) at Portiuncula during delivery between February and November of last year.

Dr Nash admitted in an RTÉ radio interview yesterday that there was “failure to adequately recognise” abnormalities on the CGT and, as a result, “to respond as promptly as should be responded in these cases”.

A CGT records the baby’s heartbeat and the mother’s uterine contractions.

Dr Nash said a review of the babies’ cases raised concerns about their management during labour.

One baby died shortly after birth.

Six of the babies were transferred to Dublin for “head cooling” — cooling the heads of certain babies deprived of oxygen at birth may make death and brain damage slightly less likely.

Dr Nash said “You’d expect any unit to have a number of babies sent for head cooling or to be born with lack of oxygen after birth”, but when they looked at the cases, it was clear the figure was high for a unit the size of Portiuncula.

This became clear in November following an internal review and Dr Nash said they “immediately put in place” protective measures including ongoing audits, and monitoring and chart reviews that were “much more intensive than the norm”.

An external review is in the process of being set up, which, Dr Nash, said would “look more widely at the unit from the point of view of the processes and practices” .

In the meantime, he wished to reassure women attending Portiuncula “that the quality and safety of care is adequate at the hospital”.

Health Minister Leo Varadkar described maternity services in Ireland as “safe”.

“I say that for two reasons: first of all it’s true and secondly there are 60,000 pregnant women in Ireland at the moment. Some are on their first pregnancies and they all have families, so I don’t want them to be unnecessarily worried,” the minister said.

He said he didn’t think shutting down smaller maternity units was the solution because it would “totally overwhelm” the bigger units, but he conceded there were issues with smaller caseloads coming through.

“You need to see a lot of cases in medicine to recognise the difficult cases. And also I know some of the smaller units are having difficulties recruiting experienced staff,” the minister said. However with the new hospital groups, there may be the potential for Portiuncula to come under the wing of a larger maternity unit.

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