Once better known as the world’s oldest continuously operating maternity hospital, Dublin’s Rotunda Hospital is now attracting attention for the overcrowding “crisis” in its neonatal unit.
The unit admits some 1,400 babies every year, most of whom are born in the hospital. In December 2019, Professor Fergal Malone, Master of the Rotunda, pointed out that the hospital’s overcrowding issue had contributed to the death of one premature baby and the infection of two others with meningitis.
Speaking to the Irish Times in mid-November 2019, Professor Malone pointed out that the incubators in the unit are currently positioned less than one metre apart, despite the fact that incubators should be at least three metres apart to prevent infection. As such, he said that it is “only a matter of time” before newborn babies are injured or die as a result of this issue.
According to the Rotunda Hospital Strategic Plan 2017-2021, a plan is in place to relocate the Rotunda Hospital to the Connolly Hospital Campus in Blanchardstown. This initiative was announced in May 2015 by the then Minister for Health, Leo Varadkar, and according to the Strategic Plan, “the Board of Governors is enthusiastic about the decision, as it recognises the need for a new facility fit for modern maternity services.”
Professor Malone has claimed that, although such a development would be welcomed with open arms, it could take up to 15 years to materialise. In the meantime, revised plans for a four-storey development at Parnell Square have been put in place.
The average age of first-time mothers in Ireland has been rising continuously since the early 2000s, and it now stands at 32.5 years. As the age of new mothers has increased, complications during pregnancy and childbirth have become increasingly common.
The need for substantial resources to address the issues of overcrowding and other problems with our health service is not a new development. Nonetheless, premature babies are too vulnerable to fight the plethora of infections they could be exposed to if there are lapses in their care.
We accept that hospitals are doing the best that they can with the resources available to them, but the standard of care provided at this crucial time must be prioritised.
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