Expanded investigation of Portiuncula maternity care

UK obstetrician Prof James Walker to lead review of 12 cases at Galway hospital

A full review of maternity care at Portiuncula Hospital in Ballinasloe is to be carried out as part of an expanded investigation into problem births at the hospital.

At least 12 births where issues arose are to be investigated in the review, up from the seven originally envisaged. The “adverse perinatal events” under examination occurred between 2008 and November 2014.

The Saolta University Health Care Group, which includes Portiuncula, has announced the terms of reference of the review, which is to be chaired by Prof James Walker, professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at the University of Leeds. Other names of the review team will be announced at a later date.

Last month, it emerged seven births at the Co Galway hospital involving oxygen deprivation, two of which resulted in death, were being investigated. Several families not among the original seven cases then sought to have their births included in the inquiry.


The “apparent deficiencies” identified in the initial review related to the interpretation of tracing of the foetal heartbeat, the administration of drugs to accelerate labour and instrumental delivery. The cases added since are understood to be similar.

The investigation began after it emerged that referrals for a treatment to reduce the risk of brain injury among babies born “flat” or unresponsive were 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.

Saolta says the review will follow agreed HSE processes for investigating serious incidents and the resulting report “may” be published.

The wider review of maternity care at Portiuncula, which delivers 2,000 babies a year, will start in the coming weeks and is expected to take five months.

“Regular re-audits have confirmed that there is no continuing patient safety concern arising from the issues identified,” according to a statement from the hospital group.

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is Health Editor of The Irish Times