Lives of babies are at risk due to Rotunda overcrowding, master says

Prof Fergal Malone issues warning over a ‘crisis’ at the maternity hospital

File image of Prof Fergal Malone, who has issued a warning over overcrowding at the Rotunda Hospital.

The master of the Rotunda Hospital has warned it is “only a matter of time” before more newborn babies are injured or die as a result of the overcrowding “crisis” in the hospital.

Prof Fergal Malone says a lack of space in the State's oldest and busiest maternity hospital is increasing the risk of infection and putting the lives of newborns at risk.

Earlier this year, a number of premature babies were affected by a superbug infection known as ESBL-producing Klebsiella.

“As night follows day, it is only a matter of time before there is another infectious outbreak in a postnatal ward or in the neonatal intensive care unit and babies will be injured,” Prof Malone told The Irish Times.


“We already had at least one baby who has died, and others got meningitis, where overcrowding and infection were key causal factors. It will be only a matter of time before we have another such episode.”


In the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit, incubators are spaced about half a metre apart, when international best practice suggested they should be up to three metres apart, he pointed out.

“When cots are that close together, it is not possible to maintain proper hygiene and minimise the risk of infection.”

As a result, the hospital has restricted the occupancy of its 19-bed high-tech neonatal unit, which accommodates the sickest newborns, to 14, and has “capped” access to beds for newborns arriving from other hospitals.

In recent weeks, a critically ill newborn being transported by helicopter from a provincial maternity hospital endured a four-hour delay in receiving treatment because no critical care bed was available in Dublin. The baby was eventually brought to a hospital outside the capital and survived.

While there are plans to move the Rotunda to Connolly Hospital in Blanchardstown, Prof Malone says this could take up to 15 years to implement. In the interim, the hospital has drawn up revised plans for a €49 million, four-storey development at Parnell Square to relieve the overcrowding.

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is a former heath editor of The Irish Times.