ONE baby was born almost every six hours in the maternity unit at Portlaoise hospital during 2019.
Recent figures show that more than 1,400 babies were born in the hospital last year. Despite that number, the future of Portlaoise hospital is facing more uncertainty.
A recent report stated that the maternity service cannot plan for the future because no plan is in place for the future of the main hospital.
The issue was raised in the most recent report on Ireland’s maternity services by HIQA, the health service watchdog.
The report acknowledged improvements in the maternity department since 2014, following reports of unnecessary baby deaths. It also acknowledged the improvement of services following the merger of the department with the Coombe Women and Children’s University Hospital in Dublin. It described the merger and co-operation between the two hospitals as leading to “very positive developments”.
However, the lack of an agreement on the hospital’s overall future, according to HIQA, is “a major barrier” to securing maternity services at the facility and that the combined efforts made to date between the two hospitals had not led to the expected “full establishment of a maternity network as defined in the National Maternity Strategy. This means that the Coombe’s senior management team had no direct oversight or responsibility for maternity services provided at the Midland Regional Hospital Portlaoise.”
The Coombe hospital told HIQA that the lack of an overall agreed future plan for Portlaoise hospital represented a major barrier to further progress on establishing a maternity network under a single governance structure.
HIQA also noted the progress made since its last inspection in 2017, such as the upgrading of facilities in the maternity unit; the recruitment of midwifery, nursing staff and allied health professionals; the appointment of a clinical midwife specialist in bereavement; and the recruitment of consultants in obstetrics and gynaecology, perinatal psychiatry and perinatal pathology.
In the latest report, management at Portlaoise hospital told the HIQA inspectors that because of no direction on the hospital’s future, this has “significantly impacted the hospital’s ability to develop a clear strategy for maternity services”.
Management also told the inspectors: “Despite continually campaigning to recruit staff, the hospital had experienced difficulty in recruiting and retaining midwives, consultant obstetricians and paediatricians. The uncertainty of the future and range of services to be provided at the hospital impacts on the hospital’s ability to attract and retain permanent staff.”
HIQA noted: “Any strategic planning of maternity services within the hospital is constrained by the lack of any clear national and regional guidance and direction on the services in the hospital.”