Dáil Éireann - Volume 631 - 14 February, 2007
Nursing Home Eviction Notices. - Hospital Staff.
Ms Lynch Ms Lynch
Ms Lynch: I would have preferred the Minister for Health and Children to have been present but I appreciate the attendance of the Minister of State. The issue I wish to raise concerns a facility in Cork which is due to open on 24 March 2007. Cork has been well served by four maternity units and three in particular, the Bon Secours Hospital, St. Finbarr's Hospital and Erinville Hospital, which are very highly regarded and have provided a service second to none for expectant mothers in Cork for longer than anybody in the House would care to remember. It was decided that, to provide a safer service for pregnant mothers, all the maternity services were to be combined, on the grounds that all practitioners in the area would be gathered under the one roof.
We have a magnificent new building with 144 beds. It is estimated that it will deliver 7,500 babies per year and experts tell me this will quickly rise to 8,000 and more. It has been described by the local HSE as more of a hotel than a hospital, with birthing suites and other facilities we would expect in the modern world. However, there is one fly in the ointment, namely, the staffing levels which experts consider to be adequate to ensure safe practice are not being put in place. The HSE southern area commissioned a study by an expert in midwifery from England, Marie Washbrook, who considered the type of delivery to be expected in Cork, the numbers involved and the population base. She concluded that to deliver a safe service in Cork, there was a need for 383 midwives. At present 317 are on offer and they  are not all fully trained, some of them being student midwives.
Midwives in Cork are very good and decent women and any woman who has been attended to by one will say that they are exceptional people and very professional. They are prepared to carry a number of trainee midwives to bring up the staffing levels. A midwife service course was supposed to be offered last year but was cancelled and it now appears it will not just be student midwives who make up the numbers but care assistants and general nurses. This is simply not good enough. A director of midwifery was appointed and left because she was expected to report to a general nursing director, but everyone knows midwifery is a separate profession and has a different agenda.
It is hoped the director of midwifery who was appointed to run the facility will take delivery of midwifery services in Cork in many new directions, including providing a service for people who want home births or to have consultations at home but deliver their babies in hospital. It was never intended, however, for the midwifery service to be dependent on the general nursing service. On 24 March, the Minister for Health and Children will cut the ribbon on a beautifully decorated facility in Cork where no service is available because staffing levels will not be of a standard that midwives in Cork feel will ensure a safe service. As a result, they are refusing to transfer.
Even at this late stage I call on the Minister to delay her visit to Cork to open the hospital and on the Government to engage with the Irish Nurses Organisation to ensure the service delivered to pregnant mothers is safe and one of which we can all be proud.
Mr. Parlon Mr. Parlon
Mr. Parlon: I am replying to this matter on behalf of the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney. I welcome the opportunity to set out the position on the issue raised by Deputy Lynch.
The Minister is committed to safe maternity care for women and their babies. The opening of Cork University Maternity Hospital represents the single largest investment in obstetric care since the foundation of the State. To date, €75 million has been invested in developing the new infrastructure which provides a state-of-the-art environment with a full range of birthing options and choices for mothers and their families.
Funding has also been provided for a new national perinatal and epidemiology centre in CUMH. This will allow unusual trends in childbirth to be quickly observed and, most importantly, acted on to ensure that services for mothers and babies born in Ireland are based on best possible research.
The new hospital is designed to cater for the current birth rate of 7,200 births per annum as well as gynaecology services currently provided  over three sites — Bon Secours Hospital, St. Finbarr’s Hospital and Erinville Hospital.
The transfer of maternity services to the new Cork University Maternity Hospital will facilitate the provision of a 24-hour, on-site, on-call consultant-provided maternity service. This will lead to better patient care and perinatal outcomes, improved risk management and clinical governance, and fulfil the Government objective of medical services being consultant-provided rather than consultant-led. Another key efficiency in the amalgamation of services will be seen in the development of a single citywide service with an out-of-hours on-call roster, rationalising the service to a single 24-hour cover rota.
Under the Health Act 2004, which provided for the establishment of the Health Service Executive on 1 January 2005, the HSE is responsible for managing and delivering, or arranging to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. The HSE, therefore, is responsible for the midwifery-nursing staffing at the new Cork University Maternity Hospital, CUMH. Of all the disciplines involved in the delivery of health care, nurses and midwives have the most contact with the patient. As a group, nurses and midwives are fundamental to improving the care environments for patients.
I am aware of the concerns raised by the Irish Nurses Organisation about midwifery-nursing staffing levels at Cork University Maternity Hospital. I have been informed that HSE management has been involved in detailed negotiations with the INO on behalf of the midwifery and nursing staff who will transfer to the CUMH on 24 March next. The HSE has created 264 new additional posts, of which 146 are midwifery-nursing posts for the new Cork University Maternity Hospital, to cater for the same number of births currently provided for in the three existing locations. When the new Cork maternity unit opens it will have a midwifery-nursing complement of 375.5 full-time positions — 304 midwives, 7.5 nursery nurse positions and 64 student midwives. Twenty student midwives commenced the new undergraduate programme in 2006 in University College Cork, and as university students, they are not counted in the staffing numbers. The full midwifery staff complement will be 383 by the time all services are introduced on a phased basis by next December.
The HSE has internationally benchmarked staffing levels for the new CUMH. Recommendations from the British Paediatric Intensive Care Society as well as those of international midwifery expert, Marie Washbrook, from Birthrate Plus, have been taken on board.
I have also been informed that the HSE remains willing, as previously confirmed to the INO, to have a prospective review of midwifery-nursing staffing levels carried out once the new facility opened. It is in line with global best prac tice to conduct such studies once the new “patient pathways” and midwifery workload can be identified in the new environment.
Senior management has been engaged since January 2005 with a comprehensive industrial relations agenda covering all unions and representing all grades of staff. The HSE has informed me it is only in the past few days that the INO has agreed to refer any of its concerns to the Labour Relations Commission despite management’s persistent requests to do so at an earlier stage. I understand a conciliation conference has been arranged by the LRC for 21 February.
I am confident the extensive range of measures taken by the Government and the HSE will con tinue to address effectively the midwifery-nursing workforce needs of the new CUMH. The HSE has reassured me that at all times management has been open and transparent regarding the transfer of service and every effort has been made to integrate staff from all three locations — Bons Secours Hospital, Erinville Hospital and St. Finbarr’s Hospital — before they transfer to the new Cork University Maternity Hospital.
I am confident the new CUMH will provide a much enhanced maternity service to mothers and their families in the southern region.
The Dáil adjourned at 10.45 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 15 February 2007.
Dáil Éireann 631 Nursing Home Eviction Notices. Hospital Staff.