Galway hospital commissions review of head injuries to newborn babies during delivery

UHG investigating cases of bleeding under skin of baby’s head, associated with difficult births

Stephen Donnelly said he did not know the exact number of cases, but he had been told by the hospital that it was 'a small number'. Photograph: Eric Luke

University Hospital Galway (UHG) has said it has commissioned a review into a small number of cases where newborn babies suffered head injuries as they were being delivered last year.

The hospital said the review would examine several cases of subgaleal haemorrhages that occurred during childbirth, which is where there is a bleed under the skin of the baby’s head outside of the skull.

The condition is rare and is mostly associated with difficult births, where medical staff may have to use tools such as forceps or vacuum devices to assist the delivery.

In serious cases the haemorrhage can lead to seizures and brain damage. However, the Saolta University Hospital Group, which includes UHG, said in all cases under review the babies had been “discharged home well from hospital”.


Recent correspondence to one woman whose child is among the the cases under review, said the work would be carried out by “a multi-disciplinary team of professionals external to the Saolta group”.

The 17th August letter, seen by The Irish Times, said: “The aim of the review is to see if there are areas of current practice that can be identified for improvement”.

The letter, from a senior clinician in UHG, said the hospital would communicate the findings of the external review to parents of affected children.

It stated the focus of the review was the labour and delivery of babies who had subgaleal haemorrhages.

In a statement, the Saolta group said all cases of subgaleal haemorrhage identified in newborns were reported on a national incident log.

“Every such incident will have a preliminary review performed, and the findings are presented at the Saolta Serious Incident Management Team meeting”, a spokesman for the HSE group said.

“There are varying grades of severity of subgaleal haemorrhage dependant on a number of clinical factors,” he said.

UHG were “currently undertaking a review of cases of subgaleal haemorrhage which occurred during 2022 as part of a commitment to quality of care,” he said.

Commenting on the matter, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said the hospital was correct to launch a review, which he added should be open and transparent.

“I can confirm that all of the parents involved in the review have been informed, which is essential,” Mr Donnelly said.

The hospital had informed the Minister that all of the babies went home healthy, he told RTÉ Radio 1′s Morning Ireland.

“What’s happening here is the hospital is initiating a review. It’s exactly the type of thing we want to see hospitals do when they spot a potential patient safety issue. They’ve initiated a review. They’ve engaged with all of the parents involved. And we now need to let that process happen and see what it finds,” he said.

Mr Donnelly said while he did not know the exact number of cases under review, he had been told by the hospital that it was “a small number”. He added it was his hope that the review would be published when completed.

Jack Power

Jack Power

Jack Power is acting Europe Correspondent of The Irish Times