London: Midwives and nurses in Ireland have warned that staff shortages at maternity units in the country could lead to a repeat of system failures that were blamed for Savita Halappanavar's death. The 31-year-old dentist had died at Galway University Hospital on October 28, 2012, after a miscarriage at 17 weeks.
An inquest into her death in May was told how the medical team missed the early signs of blood poisoning that eventually killed her. The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation's delegate conference in Donegal, Ireland, this week has heard that a moratorium on staff recruitment could lead to another similar tragedy.
"What happened in Galway could happen in any hospital in the country. Every day I leave my job I say 'Thank God the patients in my care are safe today'," said Maureen Hanlon, a midwife at Mayo General Hospital. According to the 'Irish Examiner', Anne Burke, a clinical nurse manager at University Hospital Galway (UHG), told the conference that maternity units were "winging it, every single day, in order to maintain some semblance of service to ante and post-natal women".
The nurse said the persistence of the moratorium had left a national midwifery workforce "on its knees".
"Ireland's midwifery profession is, on a daily basis, holding the Irish maternity services together, but only on a shoestring," Burke said. She pointed out that maternity units like CUMH, which has a birth rate in the order of 9,000 per year, have been grossly understaffed, despite a Labour Court recommendation in February 2011 to employ at least 80 additional midwives in order to maintain safe practice.
The nurse added the persistence of the moratorium, coupled with the loss of midwifery expertise due to retirements in February 2012, had left a national midwifery workforce "on its knees". "Midwives are working in these precarious, poorly-resourced situations every day of the week," Burke said, yet only made the headlines "when the risk has become an unfortunate tragedy and a reality".
Meanwhile, legal representatives for Savita's husband, Praveen Halappanavar, will later this week meet the head of a health service investigation into the circumstances leading to the death of his wife. Her husband, who will not be attending the meeting, had postponed the discussions with Prof Sabaratnam Arulkmaran until after the inquest into Savita's death, which concluded last month that she died of medical misadventure.
It is expected to finally pave the way for the publication of a long-awaited internal report into Savita's death in 2012. The Irish government has also agreed on a draft bill to clarify the strict laws on abortion in the Catholic country in the wake of the tragedy.