Rotunda’s heart ultrasound machine ‘must be replaced in four to six months’

Consultant’s warning comes after staff from neonatal unit started online campaign to raise funds for new machine

Rotunda staff ’not seeking to criticise Government for lack of funding. File photograph: Cyril Byrne

Rotunda staff ’not seeking to criticise Government for lack of funding. File photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

The ultrasound machine used to monitor the hearts of premature and seriously ill newborn babies at the Rotunda Hospital must be replaced within four to six months, a doctor from the Dublin hospital has said.

Dr Afif El-Khuffash, a consultant neonatologist and paediatrician at the Rotunda, warned the hospital’s echocardiography machine, which is used to assess a baby’s heart structure, had already undergone “significant repairs” and was “reaching the end of its life”. Some €10,000 has been spent on repairs to the machine in recent months, he said.

“We can continue to use the current machine for the next four to six months before we absolutely have to replace it,” Dr El-Khuffash told The Irish Times.

The machine is used on premature babies on a daily basis, some weighing as little as 400g.

“What’s been happening is the image quality has significantly deteriorated; it’s general wear and tear. Ultrasounds should be replaced every five to seven years, and we’ve had this since late 2012. I don’t want to alarm people. We still have the facility to do [the work] but it’s reaching end of life.”

Dr El-Khuffash is one of a group of medical professionals from the Rotunda’s neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) who earlier this month launched a GoFundMe campaign to finance the cost of a new heart ultrasound machine. To date, €26,546 out of the target of €76,500 has been raised through public donations.

He said Rotunda staff were not seeking to criticise the Government for lack of funding as the hospital had already submitted a list of equipment to be replaced through State money.

However, current funding did not cover the cost of all equipment, and as the ultrasound machine had not completely stopped working it was not included in the latest list, he said.

The hope was a new machine would be funded through public support, said Dr El-Khuffash, noting the 2012 machine was paid for by philanthropic donations through the hospital’s charitable arm, the Rotunda Foundation.

“GoFundMe gives us a platform to fundraise for a single item. We found the public responded well when it’s a specific piece of equipment, people know where their money is going.”

Dr El-Khuffash said overcrowding at the maternity hospital continued to cause problems, with staff forced to place cots in closer proximity to each other than was recommended under international standards. “When we are at full capacity spacing between incubators can be limited and this increases the risk of infection,” he said.

“We also need to improve our isolation facilities and have single room isolation beds which are very important.”

Additional funding was urgently needed to upgrade the west side of the hospital to relieve this overcrowding, he said.

A statement from the Rotunda Hospital said the echocardiography machine was an “essential piece of equipment for an intensive care unit” and that its replacement was “critical to be able to maintain the continuity of safe care” for premature babies and their families.

Limited exchequer funds meant there was no guarantee the State could pay for the replacement machine, said the statement, adding the hospital was working with the HSE to ensure medical equipment needs were prioritised.

The hospital was engaging in a major fundraising drive to replace the ultrasound machine and is extremely grateful for the public support, it said.

“It is heartening, especially during the Christmas season, to see the outpouring of warmth and respect for our hard-working NICU team who are providing the best care to our most vulnerable patients,” the statement said.