A proposal to limit home births to women living within 30 minutes of a maternity hospital has been put on hold for Cork and Kerry, following protests and intervention by the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO).
It is unclear whether the change in plans will also apply in other areas. The majority of homebirths in Ireland take place in those two counties.
The HSE proposal came as a changeover in the governance of homebirth services, from community care into hospitals, is underway.
Protests in Cork and Dublin followed news of the proposal. A crunch meeting took place earlier this week between the INMO and the HSE.
A key issue was that evidence underpinning the proposal was not published or presented to the HSE Home Birth Oversight and Steering Committee. An INMO spokeswoman said:
"It was agreed that the proposal should be suspended until it has been concluded by the steering group overseeing the transfer from community to acute services."
She added: “The INMO has requested that the steering group be convened in December.”
Community midwife Mary Cronin said: “It is a massive relief. All of the women in Cork and Kerry who are low-risk and fit the criteria, can now access the service.”
She understands a review of Irish and international homebirth research will now be done by the HSE’s Health Intelligence Unit.
Krysia Lynch, spokeswoman for the Association for Improvements in Maternity Services (AIMS) Ireland said: “We welcome the decision because the proposal was not evidence-based, and there was no evidence shown that outcomes would have improved for mothers or babies with that distance in place.”
A HSE spokeswoman said: "The HSE recognises that home birth is an important pathway for women. Our objective is to ensure the continuity of the service, and the safety of mothers and their babies, in line with the objectives of the National Maternity Strategy."
BirthRight Alliance Ireland representative in Cork Kara Spratt said: “The service will be transferred as is, there will be no material change. This is crucial for our rural counterparts in West Cork and Kerry.”
Community midwife in west Cork and member of the steering group Elke Hasner is hopeful any new proposals will be discussed openly at the steering group meetings, saying her next 11 clients would have been excluded.
“That is now not the case,” she said.
The Midwives Association of Ireland also welcomed the suspension.