Wednesday, 13 March 2019
Independent Clinical Review of Maternity Services at Portiuncula University Hospital: Statements (Resumed)
I thank the Deputies for their contributions. Following on from what the Minister, Deputy Harris, stated when opening the debate on this matter last June, I wish to express my heartfelt sympathies to the families involved and commend them on their engagement in the review process. It is vitally important, not least for those families, that the systems learn from these events and ensure that such learning is made available nationwide. More importantly, we must turn that learning into action. As outlined earlier, the HSE has been asked to progress the recommendations as a matter of priority and its work is under way. It is notable that the implementation team which has been put in place by Portiuncula Hospital includes some of the families involved. I have no doubt that the process will be strengthened and the output improved as a result of the participation of those families.
I reiterate the Government's commitment to the progress of developments of maternity care in Ireland. As the House is aware, Ireland's first national maternity strategy was published in 2016 demonstrating a new and enhanced focus on maternity care at both policy and service delivery level. The maternity strategy maps out the future for maternity and neonatal care to ensure that it will be safe, standardised, of high quality and offer an enhanced experience and more choice to women and their families. The strategy recognises that, while all pregnant women need a certain level of support, some will require more specialised care. Accordingly it proposes an integrated model that delivers care at the lowest level of complexity and encompasses all the necessary safety nets in line with patient safety principles. It aims to ensure that women and babies receive the right care from the right professional at the right time and in the right place.
In 2017, the national women and infants health programme was established to lead the management, organisation and delivery of maternity, gynaecology and neonatal services. This work includes implementing the strategy and overseeing the establishment of maternity networks nationwide. Previously the Minister outlined how these maternity networks are being established across hospital groups. In addition to supporting and strengthening small maternity units such as that at Portiuncula, this development will serve to improve governance and oversight and facilitate the sharing of expertise within and between networks. The establishment of a maternity network is currently being progressed within the Saolta hospital group and the first step of that network will initially comprise Galway University Hospital and Portiuncula Hospital.
The national women and infants health programme is delivering on the vision of the strategy in line with the detailed implementation plan which was published in October 2017. Development funds allocated to progress the implementation of the strategy since its launch in 2016 have ensured that progress has been made and that services have improved. With the €4.15 million that Government allocated to maternity in 2018, the national women and infants health programme addressed several priorities including improving quality and safety, establishing community midwifery teams and increasing access to anomaly scanning services. The further €1 million allocated this year will ensure the development of maternity services remains a focus with priorities for 2019 including the ongoing establishment of the maternity networks and expansion of the strategy's supported care pathway.
Other key building blocks which have been put in place to facilitate the provision of a consistently safe and high quality service include the HIQA national standards for safer better maternity services and the HSE national standards for bereavement care following pregnancy loss and perinatal death. These initiatives, along with the national maternity strategy, clearly demonstrate that, over recent years, very significant efforts have been made and improvements achieved through a continued focus on the progressive development of maternity services right across the country. The House can be confident that we are moving in the right direction and translating plans into actions for the 80,000 families who access maternity care each year.
I want to touch on a number of the issues raised about the implementation. Saolta hospital group has confirmed that 95% of the recommendations are complete or under implementation. In addition, significant work is ongoing on the establishment of a clinical network between Portiuncula and Galway hospitals. Arrangements have also been made to have a perinatal pathologist for the hospital group. The implementation of the recommendations of this report will be audited by Saolta hospital group this coming May, one year post production.