‘Apparent deficiencies’ in care of babies at Portiuncula Hospital

Two babies died and two suffered oxygen deprivation during delivery

A review of the maternity unit at Portiuncula Hospital in Ballinasloe, Co Galway, has identified "apparent deficiencies" in the care of seven babies, two of whom died while five suffered oxygen deprivation during delivery.

The apparent deficiencies relate to the interpretation of tracing of the foetal heartbeat, the administration of drugs to accelerate labour and instrumental delivery. The Saolta Hospital Group, which includes Portiuncula, says it is contacting the seven families affected and appointments are being made for consultations with medical staff and support services.

The review, initiated by Portiuncula Hospital Ballinasloe-Saolta University Health Care Group, will be conducted by an independent expert team and will include a patient representative. According to the statement, the affected families will be consulted on the terms of reference and the review team will engage with the families as part of the process.

The investigation began after it emerged the number of referrals for a treatment to reduce the risk of brain injury among babies born “flat” or unresponsive was three times the level in comparable hospitals.


Six babies were sent from Portiuncula last year to Dublin for brain cooling, which reduces the risk of brain injury by 50 per cent. The Saolta Group says it has taken the issues raised to the HSE at national level.

It said “enhanced” care processes and monitoring of women in labour in the maternity unit have been in place since the cases under review arose between February and November last year. Corrective measures were put in place last month and since then repeated audits have shown these were fully implemented, it said.

“Portiuncula Hospital Ballinasloe-Saolta University Health Care Group regrets any distress this process may cause to the families involved and to other service users and in particular wishes to sympathise with the families of the two babies who died,” it said.

The closure of the maternity unit in Ballinasloe was one option proposed in a controversial consultant report last year.

A review of maternity services in a number of smaller hospitals across the State is under way since controversy last year over the deaths of babies at Midland Regional Hospital in Portlaoise.

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is Health Editor of The Irish Times