Fears about the future of the maternity unit at Mayo General Hospital continued to grow as new details emerged this week about the confidential draft review of services that is under way at hospitals in the west and northwest.
The report sets out six options for “services reconfiguration”, including the downgrading or closure of maternity services at Mayo General Hospital, Portiuncula Hospital Ballinasloe, Letterkenny General Hospital, and Sligo General Hospital.
Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland yesterday (Thursday ), Tony Canavan, chief operating officer of the West/North West Hospitals Group, could not confirm there would be no closure of maternity services at the hospitals under review.
However Mr Canavan said the document is the very beginning of a consultation process. “No decisions have been made in relation to the reconfiguration or the downgrading of any facilities,” he said.
“We owe it to the patients that we look after, we owe it to people of the west of Ireland, that we would review all of our services, including our maternity services. It’s not good enough to just assume that what we are doing currently is the best that we can do for our patients. We should review and we need to look at our services in that context.
“The option of closing units is not the only option that is proposed in the document.”
The report in question, commissioned by the HSE, states that “significant changes” are required within maternity services at the hospitals under review.
It points out that most units fall below the recommended number of 2,500 births a year needed to maintain a cost-effective and sustainable service.
Mayo General Hospital recorded 1,699 births last year and 1,788 births in 2012.
The report also points to staffing shortages in terms of midwives and obstetricians.
In a statement issued to media on Wednesday, Bill Maher, group chief executive of the West/North West Hospitals Group, said the review of maternity services followed on from, among other things, the HIQA report published in October 2013, after the death of Savita Halappanavar at University Hospital Galway.
“It is in this context that a review of the existing models of maternity services care is being conducted across the West/North West Hospitals Group.”
He stressed that no services reconfiguration options have been recommended or approved by the board of the hospital group or by senior management yet.
“Feasibility studies have not even been carried out and, as stated previously, speculation at this early stage in the process is unhelpful and upsetting for patients and staff.”
Fianna Fáil’s Seanad spokesperson on Health, Senator Marc Mac Sharry, accused the Government of carrying out the review “under the radar”.
“This report clearly outlines six options, each of which includes the closure of consultant obstetrician-led maternity services at certain regional hospitals. The maternity units at four of the five hospitals in the group are under threat: Portiuncula, Castlebar, Sligo, and Letterkenny It means that all but University Hospital Galway risks a downgrading of its maternity services,” he said.
“People are upset not because a secret report was exposed, but because of the threat to vital frontline health services in the region. I firmly believe that the public has a right to know about the major changes that are being considered, particularly given the profound and wide-reaching implications. If I had not released the report, this plan would have continued under the radar and would have been announced as a fait accompli after the election, regardless of the views of staff and patients.”
Councillor Harry Barrett is calling for Mayo General Hospital to be taken out of the review altogether.
He said the solution lies in lifting the recruitment embargo in place in the HSE and hiring more obstetricians and midwives for the maternity units to bring staffing ratios up to recommended norms.
“This decision will ultimately be made by the Minister for Health, and it now falls on An Taoiseach to intervene here to make the strongest possible representation for the people of Co Mayo to rule Mayo out of any ministerial decision that would see us losing the maternity unit, or having it downgraded,” said Cllr Barrett.