Portiuncula Hospital investigated over spike in unresponsive newborns

Babies referred to reduce brain-injury risk at three times level of 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; four of these were referred in a space of two months.

Six babies were sent from Portiuncula last year to Dublin for brain cooling, which reduces the risk of brain injury by 50 per cent; four of these were referred in a space of two months.

 

Maternity services at Portiuncula Hospital in Ballinasloe are being investigated following a spike in the number of babies born “flat” or with seizures last year.

The internal investigation was triggered after it emerged the number of babies referred for a treatment to reduce the risk of brain injury 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; four of these were referred in a space of two months.

This compares to just two referrals from University Hospital Galway, which delivers almost 50 per cent more babies.

All the babies are understood to be well, but it won’t be apparent for two years whether any have suffered brain damage. Sources said some of the parents involved have been involved of the audit undertaken internally.

The spike caused concern among staff, who contacted UHG and asked for an audit of procedures to establish the underlying causes.

The expected rate for neonatal encephalopathy, where a newborn’s neurological function is disturbed, is two per 1,000 births. The rate in Portiuncula last year was four.

Hypothermia therapy, or brain cooling, is recommended for treatment where the supply of blood or oxygen to a baby’s brain has been restricted during birth. The baby is placed on a cooling mat and set at a temperature of 33 degrees in an incubator for up to 72 hours.

The therapy is not available in the west of Ireland, so all babies requiring it are sent to Dublin for treatment.

The treatment has to be started within six hours of birth, so obstetric staff have to decide quickly whether to refer a baby for treatment.

It is expected an independent investigation will be ordered into the matter.