Reilly says Portlaoise Hospital is broken but will be fixed
Minister apologies to families and insists maternity unit will not be closed down
Róisín Molloy listens to MInister for Health James Reilly during the Department of Health press conference on Portlaoise Midland Regional Hospital Maternity Services, yesterday. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times
Portlaoise hospital is broken but will be fixed, Minister for Health James Reilly has pledged. Dr Reilly said he was shocked by yesterday’s report by the Department of Health’s chief medical officer into the circumstances surrounding the deaths of four infants at the maternity unit in the Midland Regional Hospital, Portlaoise.
“This whole story is one of tragedies that could have been prevented and an endurance trail of families to get to the truth.” Dr Reilly said the report represented a watershed moment for the health service. “These babies will not have died in vain and many more people into the future can feel safe.”
Revelations relating to the maternity unit in Portlaoise came to light in an RTÉ Prime Time programme at the end of January. It centred on the deaths of four babies between 2007 and 2012. The programme raised issues around maternity services at the unit, including failure to recognise and act on CTG tracings – readings of babies’ heart rate and mothers’ contractions – and the use of syntocinon, a drug that increases the rate of contractions.
The programme also highlighted a lack of communication with families about the circumstances of their babies’ deaths. Families were not informed by the hospital or the HSE about reviews of the deaths. In one case, a mother only learned of the investigation and report into her baby’s death five years later.
At the launch of the report in Dublin yesterday, Dr Reilly said the families had made clear they did not want to see the maternity service in Portlaoise closed down, but rather made safe. “In the past there has been a sense that places are made unsafe, then reported as unsafe, and those reports are used to close these services down. This will not be the case in Portlaoise. That is an undertaking I have given. Broken things can be fixed. This hospital, sadly, is broken, but it will be fixed.”
He said he would guarantee the recommendations in the report would be implemented .“I am conscious that recent events in Portlaoise have damaged public confidence in the hospital. However, I am satisfied that Portlaoise hospital will, through the establishment of a managed clinical network with the Coombe, be supported to ensure the provision of improved, safer, patient-centred maternity services . . .
“There are implications from this report for other services in the hospital and for other maternity services, and to this end I am requesting the HSE to look at other similar- sized maternity services around the country and consider their incorporation into managed clinical networks within their relevant hospital group. I am also concerned about staffing and I am directing a swift analysis of midwifery workforce planning across the country to be completed by the HSE.”
The Minister said he had also directed the health service safety watchdog Hiqa to undertake an immediate investigation of Portlaoise hospital maternity services and report back by the end of the year.