Over 40 newborns detected with MRSA bug at Limerick's Maternity Hospital since 2011

Fintan Walsh


Fintan Walsh

Figures show that nearly 90 mothers and babies tested positive for MRSA at the Maternity since 2011

Figures show that nearly 90 mothers and babies tested positive for MRSA at the Maternity since 2011

ALMOST 90 mothers and newborn babies tested positive for the MRSA superbug at University Maternity Hospital Limerick over a six-year period. 

Exclusive figures received by this newspaper show that, between 2011 and September 2017, the penicillin-resistant bacteria was present in 44 newborns and 45 mothers at the Ennis Road hospital.

The data, received under the Freedom of Information Act, shows that the highest number of detections was in 2016, with 14 babies and 12 mothers testing positive for MRSA.

The lowest rate of detections in a whole year were in 2011 and in 2015, with nine cases each.  In 2011, MRSA was found in four babies and five mothers, while there were six mothers and three neonatal cases in 2015.

In 2012, there were 12 cases of MRSA detected at UMHL; nine babies and three mothers. This increased by one detection in 2013, with seven babies and six mothers with the superbug.

There was a further increase in 2014 with 15 cases; six babies and nine mothers. Up until September 2017, four mothers and one baby had MRSA.

The figures show that there were known positive patients, or MRSA carriers, prior to their admission to UMHL. There were two in 2011 and two in 2016.

The UL Hospitals Group stated: “Note that detection of MRSA while these patients were inpatients does not mean that these patients newly-acquired MRSA in the hospital. Many of these patients may have been carriers of MRSA for some time prior to detection. While this cannot be said of the neonates, many of them had mothers who were positive and who may have been the source of the acquisition.”

According to the data, the ages of mothers ranged from 19 to 45 since 2011. The documents state that there were eight women, aged 38 to 45; 18 in the 33 to 37 bracket; 14 mothers aged 27 to 32; and five women who were aged 19 to 26. The figures also show that, of the 44 newborns, 17 of whom were female and 27 were male.

MRSA is a penicillin-resistant germ, belonging to the staphylococcus aureus bacteria group. People can carry the bug without any ill effects, but in the event of an infection, it can cause a person to become ill.

‘Unacceptable delay’ in releasing MRSA data

The UL Hospitals Group has admitted that there was an “unacceptable delay” in a request for public information after it took more than six months to release data on MRSA detections at University Maternity Hospital Limerick.

On June 1 last, under the Freedom of Information Act, the Limerick Leader requested an annual breakdown of the superbug detections at UMHL between 2011 and June 2017, and the age and gender profile of each detection.

This information was not received until December 15. The Leader contacted the UL Hospitals Group seeking an explanation for the delay in releasing this information and a spokesperson responded on January 18.

The spokesperson said that the June 1 request was not forwarded to the FOI decision maker until July 10. The issuing of a formal acknowledgement was “subsequently overlooked” which she described as a “rare occurrence”.

The UL Hospitals Group apologised for this.

The spokesperson said that after the request was sent to a relevant department within the UL Hospitals Group, information had to be sourced and collated by “relevant scientific personnel”.

The UL Hospitals Group provides data on bloodstream infections for a range of bacteria, including MRSA, to the Health Protection Surveillance Centre, the spokesperson said.

This process is carried out every three months as part of a European surveillance system of antimicrobial resistance. The spokesperson added that, separately, MRSA cases are reported to the HSE’s Business Intelligence Unit on a monthly basis as part of their key performance indicators.

The spokesperson said: “Whilst it is acknowledged that there was an unacceptable delay in sending the information, a combination of staffing deficits, compounded by annual leave during July and August, and the complexity of data required also contributed to the length of time which it subsequently took to release the data finally in December. In addition, some consultation was required by the decision maker with departments within UHL, and with other hospitals in Ireland, on the release of this information through FOI.”

After a FOI request is received, it is then sent to a decision maker, who is responsible for overseeing the request until its release. The spokesperson said that the UL Hospitals Group “processes a large number” of requests annually.