Pregnant women face long delays at hospitals


PREGNANT WOMEN are having to wait until very late in their pregnancy to have their first appointment with a doctor at Dublin’s maternity hospitals, such is the pressure on the hospitals.

A woman who was three months pregnant when she recently approached the three main maternity hospitals in the city for a public appointment with an obstetrician was told the first available appointments would be when she was 7½ months into her pregnancy. The first available appointments were in November and her baby is due in December.

Being seen at such a late stage in pregnancy is regarded as unsafe as complications can go unrecognised and untreated.

When contacted yesterday the master of the Rotunda Hospital, Dr Sam Coulter Smith, confirmed the first available public appointments at his hospital were in November, but he said the hospital was putting on extra clinics to cope with the peak in demand for bookings at the moment.

“We are extraordinarily busy. We are going to have to put on extra booking clinics to deal with the increase in numbers,” he said.

He stressed the hospital would encourage women as soon as they know they are pregnant to organise their booking visit because it should take place ideally at 12 weeks. If a woman waited until she was 12 weeks pregnant before booking an appointment she might not be seen until much later which was inappropriate, he said. “If a woman is booking late complications can go unrecognised and untreated and clearly that is not safe,” he said. He added that the three Dublin maternity hospitals which take public antenatal patients are not designed to cope with the numbers they now have to see. “We are not staffed, we do not have the facilities to deal with that number of patients”.

He said: “Our activity levels are very high. We will probably deliver between 8,500 and 9,000 women this year. These are record highs”.

Any woman who had difficulty getting an appointment should ask her GP to make contact with the maternity hospitals, he said.

Dr Chris Fitzpatrick, master of the Coombe, said the interval between a woman ringing for her first appointment and actually attending it at present is longer than “we would want” because all the hospitals were working beyond capacity. However, he stressed there was always provisions made to ensure women who were booking late could be seen.

“We have a provision for emergency bookings and if somebody was in advanced pregnancy we would always see them,” he said, adding he was therefore surprised a woman who was three months pregnant couldn’t make an appointment to be seen until November, though he said he couldn’t comment on any individual case.

“In most instances where there is a delayed presentation a GP would contact the hospital and in those circumstances we would facilitate them with a fairly early appointment,” he added.

Janette Byrne of Patients Together said she had a number of calls from patients on this issue which was causing quite a bit of distress.