Midwife Care Depends On Where You Live

EXPECTANT mothers might believe that they will receive the same quality of care no matter where they live, but there is a staggering variation in the number of midwives available in Irish hospitals. The level of care depends to a huge extent on the choice of hospital.

In the new Cork University Hospital, each midwife handles an average of just over 31 births per year. Health Service Executive (HSE) figures reveal that there were 257 midwives to deal with the birth of just over 8,000 babies per year at the Cork Hospital.

The Regional Maternity Hospital Limerick and Letterkenny General Hospital had the same ratio of births to midwives.

Responding to the statistic that each fully qualified midwife in Cork University Hospital delivered just 31 babies in a year — or fewer than one a week — the Irish Nurses’ Organisation (INO) pointed out that midwives are engaged in many other activities as part of their duties.

“Only a certain number of midwives would work in the labour ward. Others would work in antenatal, post-natal, intensive care and other departments of a maternity hospital,” said an INO source.

In University Hospital Galway, a midwife is expected to handle three times more births per year. In Galway, the 37 midwives delivered a staggering 3,418 babies — which works out at over 91 babies per midwife. The figures from the Midland Regional Hospital in Mullingar are also well above the national average, with a yearly ratio of 73 babies per midwife.

The two best known maternity hospitals in the state, the Rotunda and the Coombe in Dublin, were also above the national average with between 53 and 57 babies per midwife.

Deputy Damien English of Fine Gael, who secured these figures from the HSE, said they indicated that maternity services were at “breaking point”.

“Childbirth is a unique and difficult time for parents and children, and it is not satisfactory that even at birth the children of the nation are not equal,” said the TD.

He claimed there was anecdotal evidence that “cutbacks in the treatment of newborn children in hospitals had seriously impacted on the quality of care for mothers and babies”.

The deputy noted, “The sheer pressure of numbers means some hospitals have abandoned the policy of having nurseries where experienced nurses look after the child for a night whilst the mother recuperates.”

Instead, “mothers who have experienced serious operations such as Caesareans are expected to look after their children within hours”, said English, who went on to say that it was “believed that several mothers and children have suffered from injuries because of this new policy”.

Responding to the figures, a Health Service Executive spokesman said, “The figures don’t take account of the complexity of the service in each unit or the presence of support staff such as RGNs and Nurse Assistants. The exact arrangement will vary between units/hospitals, but it would be normal that some midwives may have other work commitments outside the delivery ward, meaning that their work is not exclusively with women delivering their babies. Midwives may also be employed to work in Neonatology units, which will see them included in the staff headcount for the maternity unit/hospital, but it is not strictly accurate to then include them in statistics relating to the average number of births per midwife employed.”