The future of maternity services at Mayo General Hospital has been put firmly on the agenda around the county this week, following revelations from Independent councillor Michael Kilcoyne that a draft report proposed the closure of a number of maternity units in the region, including at Mayo General.
Cllr Kilcoyne also hit out at those in power for spending time not on the issue, but on side issues. “They’ve been spending a lot of time trying to find out how I got the information. My response to that is that there are still people in the country who will pass on information that needs to be passed on to someone who will get it out there in the public domain. If this wasn’t raised now and when the report was published, you’d have the Government saying that they are just doing what was recommended in the report. But now they will be able to influence what goes into this report.”
However in a letter to the staff in the West/North West Hospitals Group, the CEO of the group, Bill Maher, hit back at media reports as speculation. “As we are in the run-up to local and European Parliament elections in May, there will be lots of speculation in the media in relation to the provision of maternity services in the West/North West and I would like to advise you all that it is just that – speculation,” he said. “I will ensure that you will be consulted and kept informed of the facts of what is planned and the processes that are under way.”
While there have been assurances from Government representatives that there is no threat to the maternity services at Mayo General Hospital, assurances are no good according to Cllr Kilcoyne. He told the Mayo Advertiser this week: “There is one simple way to ensure that there will be no closure of the services in Mayo. Put it in the terms of reference of the report, it’s that simple. I’m calling on the Minister for Health to release the terms of reference, which haven’t been publicly available, so we can see them and get it included in the terms so that there will be no closure of the maternity services in Mayo. It’s all right getting a letter and assurances from Ministers saying there is no threat, but that’s not a guarantee. People in Sligo had assurances before, as did the people in Roscommon, and look what happened to their cancer and A&E services, even with those assurances.”
He went on to say: “I’m not accusing anyone of trying to close the maternity service in Mayo, but if the safeguarding of the service is included in the terms of reference of the report then it doesn’t matter what it comes back with as it can’t be done. You can’t end up with two maternity units in the region with one in Letterkenny and another in Galway.”
In his letter Mr Maher confirmed that a review of the existing models of maternity services is be carried out in light of HIQA recommendations regarding maternity services to cover patient choice, models of care, and the provision of a suitably skilled and competent workforce to ensure that they can deliver safe and effective care.
He said that the board “welcomed a discussion on different service models including midwife led units co-located with existing obstetric units” and agreed that “staff and public engagement on this would be included in the second phase of the review” and that “consistent with our normal approach, we will now draw up a public engagement strategy to determine the level of support for midwifery led services. We will also carry out a full stakeholder consultation with all staff in maternity services and we will conduct a review of the maternity workforce in line with current standards. A new director of midwifery services, who will be taking up post this summer, will be responsible for co-ordinating the consultation with staff and the public.”
Fine Gael TD Michelle Mulherin lashed out at Cllr Kilcoyne in a statement. She said Minister for Health James Reilly had told her that “reports circulating that a decision has been made to close maternity services at Mayo General Hospital are totally incorrect.” She went on to say: “Michael Kilcoyne seems to specialise in scaremongering without facts to back him, and this isn't his first time doing so as he did previously in relation to the Sacred Heart Home. Instead the staff at Mayo General should be complimented on the top class maternity service they provide which is very much appreciated by not just mothers but for generations of Mayo families very few of whom have not availed of the service.”