Maternity Initiative Gets Warm Welcome
14 Mar 2006
Childbirth centre: The proposed establishment of a national specialist centre which will record and analyse every childbirth in Ireland marks an important development in light of the recent Lourdes Hospital inquiry, according to an obstetrics expert.
The new National Perinatal Epidemiology Centre in Cork University Hospital will ensure that unusual trends are detected and encourage improved co-operation between maternity units according to Prof John Higgins, head of the department of obstetrics and gynaecology.
Following Judge Maureen Harding Clarke's recommendation that clinical isolation should be lessened, the centre will work to ensure that professionals are not practising in isolation according to Prof Higgins.
He hopes that national engagement will become one of the most important outcomes of the centre, which acquired capital funding 18 months ago and is due to open by the end of 2006, at a cost of €630,000 per annum.
"We hope to develop a single identical maternity chart for every maternity hospital in the country. We have these charts at the moment but they are all on hard copy, so over a period of time these will have to become electronic charts," he said.
"We also want to agree a uniform outcome perinatal data-set so that after a birth, everyone is recording things so that records will be easy to compare."
Prior to the announcement of a national perinatal epidemiology centre by Minister for Health Mary Harney in the Dáil last week, data had been routinely collected from the 22 maternity units countrywide.
However, there was no proper mechanisms for analysing that collected data.
"Assessing outcomes was one of the things that set Irish obstetrics apart from other countries and it still remains one of the most closely audited areas that looks at outcomes and publishes findings," Prof Higgins said.
"It's somewhat ironic that Lourdes happened in this area."
The report on Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, which found that the rate at which caesarean hysterectomies were carried out at the hospital was much higher than in other maternity units, was far removed from normal practice, according to Prof Higgins.
"Individual patients are unlikely to be exposed to someone so far beyond the norm again . . . we now need to look at a second element of care and that's looking at the basic standards of care and outcomes.
"I hope to see what happened last week [Lourdes Hospital report] as a turning point, that we have turned a corner. We all need to get on with making our health service one of the best internationally," said Prof Higgins.
Liam Doran, general secretary of the Irish Nurses Organisation (INO) said he "applauded the speedy initiative of the Tánaiste in this area".
"Any initiative which increases transparency . . . has to be welcomed. It is important that hospitals are not working in isolation in single units without regard for what is best practice," said Mr Doran.
Previously, there had been debate about the necessity for an overarching peer review system according to Mr Doran. He said however that the Lourdes Hospital case had been "a turning point" for healthcare professions who must accept that they are to be subject to ongoing review.
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