Warning system for maternity patients planned


The Health Service Executive is anticipating a key finding of the investigation into the death of Savita Halappanavar by introducing an early-warning system to detect any deterioration in the condition of patients in maternity hospitals across the State.

The Irish Maternity Early Warning System would be in place by the end of March, HSE officials said yesterday.

The system is designed for early detection of a range of life-threatening conditions, including sepsis, among women during and before childbirth.

The report of the HSE investigation into Ms Halappanavar’s death, to be published within weeks, is expected to recommend the immediate introduction of an obstetric early-warning score chart for patients, of the type now being introduced.

A general early-warning score system for hospital patients nationally is already in place in 80 per cent of acute hospitals, including Galway University Hospital, where Ms Halappanavar died last October, HSE officials acknowledged yesterday. However, it was not in place in the maternity unit, as a different system is required for pregnant patients.

Two patients

“The national early-warning system can’t be just taken off the shelf and applied to the pregnant patient for two reasons,” said Prof Michael Turner, HSE national clinical director for obstetrics and gynaecology. “First of all, you have to take account of the physiological changes in pregnancy and, secondly, we have to look after two patients at the same time – in the case of twins, three patients.”

Ms Halappanavar was 17 weeks pregnant when was found to be miscarrying. She had sought a medical termination over a three-day period but this was refused as a foetal heartbeat was still present. She died of septicaemia.

There has been an increase in maternal deaths in recent years, including the deaths of two women within the space of a few days at the Coombe Maternity Hospital in Dublin last year. However, no national figures for general mortality rates in Irish hospitals are published.

Minister for Health James Reilly said the national warning system would help to reduce deaths and would improve medical outcomes.

Ms Halappanavar’s death forced the Government to speed up work on legislating for abortion in cases where a woman’s life is threatened, as required by a judgment of the European Court of Human Rights.

Precluded from commenting

President Michael D Higgins again commented on the issue yesterday, by saying there should be “certainty” on women’s lives and medical practice.

Mr Higgins said when he was in Paris that he was precluded from commenting on legislation under consideration by the Oireachtas, but that his own views had not changed “in any enormous way”.

“This is not just an Irish issue. Ireland has made very significant progress in relation to safety, but you need certainty in medical practice. You need certainty, most of all, in relation to the woman’s life,” he said.