Information is power for pregnant women
Release of Dublin maternity hospital performance statistics a welcome milestone
The publication of the first monthly reports on safety and performance by the three Dublin maternity hospitals is a significant milestone in obstetric care. It is the direct result of a recommendation made by the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) following its investigation of baby deaths at Portlaoise Hospital.
With the primary aim of giving pregnant women the knowledge to make informed choices about local maternity services, the data will also help influence debate and opinion about the health system in general. The Health Service Executive (HSE) has promised to increase the number of metrics reported on as well as extending the monthly reporting system to all maternity units in the Republic.
Given that public confidence in maternity services was dented by the Savita Halappanavar case in 2012 as well as more recent concerns about patient safety at both Portiuncula and Portlaoise hospitals, it is appropriate that the sector is at the vanguard of greater public sharing of information about our health service.
The data, which includes statistics on stillbirth, neonatal deaths and overall perinatal mortality will allow women planning a family to make an objective assessment of maternity services in their region. Perinatal mortality rate is an especially sensitive metric and is considered a reliable marker for the overall quality of an obstetric service.
However the stated reluctance by the masters of the three hospitals to release a greater amount of data is regrettable. Pleading adverse publicity and additional media scrutiny as reasons for a conservative approach to information sharing is not appropriate in the 21st century. True partnership in health can only be achieved by a full and honest disclosure of all relevant knowledge. How that knowledge is treated by the media is not a valid reason for censorship.
Indeed there is an argument for metrics such as Caesarean section and other intervention rates of individual consultants to be made available to prospective mothers and their partners in order to promote fully informed choice.