Politicians in east Galway have expressed dismay at the leaking of a report into "apparent deficiencies" in maternity services at Portiuncula Hospital in Ballinasloe before families at the centre of an investigation were contacted by hospital management.
Galway East Fianna Fáil TD Colm Keaveney has called for an investigation into the leaking. The parents involved had "already been through a traumatic and distressing experience", which they were now "being forced to relive" as a result of the leak, he said.
Roscommon-South Leitrim Independent TD Denis Naughten has welcomed the independent investigation initiated by the Saolta Hospital Group, but said he was disappointed that the parents of the babies involved were finding out about the inquiry through the media when the internal review began 50 days ago.
This was echoed by several politicians, including Fine Gael TD Paul Connaughton and Senator Michael Mullins.
“My understanding is that all but one of the families had been contacted before this report came out, but it is important that it is investigated quickly,” Senator Mullins said.
“There has been a lot of scaremongering about removing maternity services from Ballinasloe,but that’s not going to happen,” he said. “This has been one of the safest units in the country and we want to make sure people have full confidence in the staff who give a fantastic level of care.”
Ballinasloe-based Fine Gael councillor Michael Finnerty said there was a "lot of upset" over the handling of the issue.
"Two deaths is two too many, but no one set out to do any harm, and Portiuncula has been one of the jewels in the crown of maternity services in Ireland, " he said. "Just today, a baby delivered on the motorway when its mother was 26 weeks in labour has gone home, and that is thanks to the care at Portiuncula."
Sinn Féin councillor Dermot Connolly said the investigation must look at staffing levels in the hospital, which were inadequate for a hospital handling over 2,000 births a year.
He said there was “always a fear” after a review of maternity services was “parked” last year that another attempt would be made to close the maternity unit.
Ballinasloe resident Jennifer Riddell, whose son Rhys was born in Portiuncula in late November, said her child owed his life to the staff at Portiuncula and Temple Street children's hospital in Dublin.
Rhys was admitted through the emergency department after his lips went “blue” when he was six weeks old.
“He had bronchitis and a collapsed lung and was in intensive care, before being transferred to Temple Street, “she said. “If had to travel to the emergency unit in Galway, 40 minutes by road at least, he would not have survived.”
Independent Galway city councillor Catherine Connolly questioned how the Saolta University health care group, which is responsible for Portiuncula, could have been "reassuring the public" last month on implementation of recommendations arising from the death of Savita Halappanavar when issues were arising in the maternity unit at Ballinasloe.
Ms Connolly, who is a member of the regional health forum, said she had attended the public board meeting hosted by the Saolta group on December 4th when “significant progress” was reported on the implementation of the local recommendations arising from all three investigations into the death of Ms Halappanavar.
This included the results of an independent review by Ernst&Young of the group’s progress on implementing the Health Implementation and Quality Authority (HIQA) recommendations.
A Saolta group spokesman said that the fact that the “apparent deficiencies” were picked up at Portiuncula hospital showed that the system which had been put in place as a result of the investigations into Ms Halappanavar’s death was “working”.