MINISTER for Health Dr James Reilly has described as “inaccurate” reports that 47 midwives are set to leave the Mid-Western Regional Maternity Hospital by the end of the month.
He was speaking after Taoiseach Enda Kenny was again attacked in the Dail for failing to spell out a contingency plan for filling critical service gaps in Limerick and elsewhere as staff retire.
The controversy over the Maternity erupted after consultant Dr Gerry Burke said the lives of Limerick mothers and children were at risk in the absence of a contingency plan to deal with a raft of retirements that would leave midwifery 47 posts short of its complement of just over 200 at the end of this month.
The comments have been widely interpreted in the media and opposition politicians as meaning 47 midwives are set to retire in Limerick. But Dr Burke made clear in the Limerick Leader that this figure was a combination of those midwives who are set to go with those who have already left over the past year. But it would still leave the hospital more than 20 per cent short of its complement of midwives, the consultant said.
Minister of State Roisin Shortall said that 34 midwives nationally intended to leave by February 29. And the latest information from Limerick Maternity, according to Minister Reilly, was that “16.5 whole-time equivalent staff” had applied to leave. He predicted that women and babies would not suffer and critical posts would be filled.
Meanwhile, Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin put it to the Taoiseach that Dr Burke’s views were shared by the HSE’s director of obstetrics. Deputy Martin said Michael Turner believed staff reductions would see maternal and infant mortality rates rise.
“What I asked the Taoiseach was whether he could outline to the House a detailed plan in regard to what posts are being reduced, where posts are being lost and whether there is a detailed plan to provide front-line services. This is a matter of life and death. I am not saying that; Dr Burke is saying it,” said Deputy Martin.
The Taoiseach reiterated criticism of Dr Burke’s comments that lives were “on the line”, saying “it ill becomes a senior medical professional to say that”. Plans were being drawn up by local health managers and flexibility clauses in the Croke Park Agreement would now be “put to the test”.
“The Government has no intention of allowing a situation where it is not possible for front-line services to be fulfilled.”