The Irish Times view on hospital infections: preventive action is vital

A warning from the Rotunda Hospital that patients will face serious health risks unless interim facilities are built cannot be ignored

 

Modern pharmacological advances notwithstanding, infection remains an important healthcare issue. Hospital acquired infection and antibiotic resistant bacteria pose an ongoing threat. Older people and the very young are especially vulnerable to both and face higher death rates should they become infected.

Against this background, a warning from the Rotunda Hospital that patients will face serious health risks unless interim facilities are built before a longer-term move to west Dublin, cannot be ignored. The warning to Government comes after infection outbreaks in the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit, despite it following best practice surveillance measures.

The proposed new development is aimed at relieving pressure on the maternity hospital pending a planned €300 million relocation to the Connolly Hospital campus in Blanchardstown, which management believes could take up to a decade to complete. In its proposal, the Rotunda pointed in particular to cramped conditions in its 39-bed neonatal intensive care unit.

Incubators are only half a metre apart – a much smaller distance than mandated by international best practice guidelines. There is also an ongoing risk to the wider health system. Between one-quarter and one-third of all neonatal intensive care facilities in the State are located at the Rotunda. If these were closed for a prolonged period due to infection outbreaks, the other main maternity hospitals in Dublin (Holles Street and the Coombe) would not have capacity to cope.

According to the master of the Rotunda, Dr Fergal Malone, doing nothing to address the issue for seven to 10 years pending the planned move to Connolly hospital is not an option.

Dating back to the 1750s, the Rotunda is the oldest maternity hospital in the world, with a fine history of cutting-edge obstetric and perinatal practice. However, its structural challenges cannot be allowed threaten patient safety. Forewarned, Government must respond to these threats by taking preventive action now.

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