Fears over future of maternity services

A question mark hangs over the future of maternity services at Portiuncula Hospital, Ballinasloe, as it emerged this week that the HSE is considering axing the service.

If plans to close the service go ahead, expectant mothers from the Athlone area will have to travel to hospitals in Galway or Mullingar to avail of maternity services.

A leaked HSE report this week suggested that four maternity units, in Ballinasloe, Sligo, Mayo, and Letterkenny, were being considered for closure as part of a review of maternity services in the West and Northwest.

However the HSE has moved to downplay fears, saying that closing maternity units is just one option being explored and that no decisons have been made to downgrade any facilities.

It is understood that four out of the six different options being considered recommended the closure of the Ballinasloe unit.

HSE officials met staff at Portiuncula last Friday May 9. Speaking after the meeting, Bill Maher, chief executive of the West/ North West Hospitals Group, said “speculation at this early stage in the process is unhelpful and upsetting for patients and staff”. He said input from staff and the public would be included in the second phase of the review.

Industrial relations officer with the Irish Nurses and Midwives Association (INMO ), Claire Tracey, said it was “outrageous” that there had been no communication with the unions, and that the INMO would be working to ensure that services are retained at Portiuncula.

“There is no reason to do anything to reduce services at Portiuncula; they should be extended. Portiuncula has a wide catchment area taking in parts of Galway, Westmeath, Offaly, Roscommon, and north Tipperary. There were 2,052 births there last year, and 2,700 in Galway.

“We have a very strong concern that the report didn’t take a more collaborative approach. We fully understand that there has to be a review, and we have no objection to this. But under the Haddington Road Agreement there is a requirement to consult with nurses, unions, and the general public on any changes to services.”

According to the HSE, the review of maternity services for the West/North West Hospitals Group will be considered as part of a broader national review of maternity services.

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