Pregnant women at risk of losing their babies cannot be expected to wait for a new maternity hospital in order to get separate care, the chief executive of UL hospital groups has accepted.
Collette Cowan was responding to calls for an Emergency Pregnancy Assessment Unit to be established at a maternity hospital in Limerick.
Plans to relocate the entire maternity hospital on the Ennis Road to a purpose-built state-of-the-art site at University Hospital Limerick (UHL) in Dooradoyle have been proposed for some time and were finally unveiled last year as part of the Government's €27 billion capital plan.
No work has commenced yet on the facility, however.
The current maternity hospital in Limerick, which caters for women across the midwest and is known by its former official name of St Munchin’s, was built in the 1960s.
It was designed to cater for 3,000 births annually, but in recent years has been dealing with 4,600 to 5,500 births and is the fifth largest maternity unit in the country.
A Facebook campaign for a separate baby loss facility at UHL is gaining significant momentum online following its launch earlier this week.
According to Ms Cowan, a temporary facility for women threatening miscarriage or who have lost babies will cost €800,000, and a bid has been made to the HSE's National Capital Steering Group for the funding.
“We have put a bid in nationally to help us put in that temporary measure, because the answer is, in short, we cannot wait for the new [maternity] hospital.
“We have to address it. I’ve met some mothers about it who have told me their story and it’s definitely one we are looking at,” she said.
According to Ms Cowan, the National Capital Steering Group is meeting next week so “we will see then where we go with it”.
She said she “totally agreed and concurred” that the main maternity hospital formerly known as St Munchin’s is “the wrong place” for women who are threatening or experiencing miscarriage.
"The clinical director Dr Burke and the team are really pushing that item with me at the moment. There is a need for an Emergency Pregnancy Assessment Unit (EPAU) to have a separate area where mothers losing can go into."
Ms Cowan made her comments at the newly opened €3 million Neurological Centre/Acute Stroke Unit at University Hospital Limerick.
The new unit opened in November 2015 and includes 24 inpatient beds, nine of which are dedicated to neurology, including Parkinson’s patients, of whom there are approximately 680 in the midwest region.
The unit was funded almost 100 per cent by JP McManus and his family, with additional costs being met jointly by the Parkinson’s Association and the HSE/UL Hospitals Group.
The unit takes up one floor of the six-storey €16.5 million Leben Building, which also houses the new Cystic Fibrosis unit.
Speaking at the launch, Prof Declan Lyons, consultant in geriatric medicine and clinical director, Medicine Directorate, UL Hospitals group, said: "Stroke is becoming more and more prevalent in Ireland as the population ages and is becoming a bigger and bigger part of what an accurate hospital like UHL does.
“The technology, the drug treatment and the management of acute stroke patients has changed dramatically in recent years and that will continue to be the case.”