by mary O’Connor
Funding earmarked for services for women in the west experiencing mental health problems during pregnancy or after childbirth is no longer available for the project.
The €370,000 set aside for the operation of the Galway University Hospital Specialist Perinatal Mental Health Service has been diverted, it was revealed this week.
The president of the Irish Hospital Consultants’ Association Dr Donal O’ Hanlon says the lack of funding for the National Maternity Strategy is affecting the one in five women who have mental health problems in pregnancy or after childbirth.
About 2,240 of these are likely to suffer from more serious mental illness and would benefit from advice from or referral to a specialist perinatal mental health service, he says.
“Such facilities were due to be established in maternity network hubs to treat women directly and provide expert advice to other maternity units in the country. It is extremely disappointing that the €370,000 required for the operation of the Galway University Hospital Specialist Perinatal Mental Health Service has been diverted.
“This means that women in the Saolta Hospital Group western counties [Donegal, Galway, Leitrim, Mayo, Roscommon, and Sligo] who need this support are being deprived of services which are available throughout the rest of the country.”
Dr O’Hanlon believes it is vital that all specialist perinatal mental health services are funded adequately due to the “very negative consequences” of perinatal mental health disorders for mothers, their baby, and their relationships with their partner and other children.
He says the findings of HIQA’s monitoring report on maternity services outlines a “familiar story with the health services - a promising launch of a national health strategy, but a lack of follow through”.
“It is very concerning and disappointing that four years into the lifetime of the National Maternity Strategy, the commitment to fund and implement its recommendations is being delayed. This is failing many, many women.
“Currently there are 31,719 women waiting for gynaecological services across our national public hospitals and almost a fifth of these women are waiting for 12 months or more.
“The consultant recruitment and retention crisis is a major factor and despite having the third highest birth rate in the EU, Ireland has less than half the EU average number of specialists in obstetrics and gynaecology. So far, only approximately 20 of the 100 additional consultants recommended in the National Maternity Strategy have been hired.”
It is essential that the Government commits to funding the implementation of the National Maternity Strategy throughout the country, he says.
“The women of Ireland have been let down by our health services in the past and have been made many promises in recent years, which the Government and health service management must now honour.”