Saturday 22 October 2016

Baby boom and a big move - the Master's legacy after 7 long years

Dr Sam Coulter-Smith’s period as Master of the Rotunda has come to an end but he’s staying on at the hospital. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Dr Sam Coulter-Smith’s period as Master of the Rotunda has come to an end but he’s staying on at the hospital. Photo: Steve Humphreys

The Master of the Rotunda has finished his last shift at the helm of the hospital.

Dr Sam Coulter-Smith's seven-year term at the helm of the Dublin city hospital ended at midnight last night.

The obstetrician said that he steps down from the post with a massive sense of pride in the staff at the hospital for all their efforts but admits that it feels "strange" his tenure is coming to an end.

"It's a big part of your life. It's a huge chunk of your professional life, of your career," he said.

However, at the age of 53, the popular medic still has many years ahead of him working as a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist at the hospital.

"I will be going back to doing a lot of the things that I did before I took on the role of Master," Dr Coulter-Smith told the Herald. "I am looking forward to going back to some of those clinical things, because being a Master takes you away from some of that.


"There is lot of time spent in administration, meetings, committees, both internal and external, and there's lots of things to take you away from the day-to-day clinical aspects of the job.

"The last seven years have been incredibly interesting."

Dr Coulter-Smith says that there has been a "huge increase in activity" at the hospital.

In fact, a record 48 bouncing babies were delivered at the Rotunda Hospital over a 24-hour period earlier last month.

A newborn was delivered on average every half hour in the busiest day that the hospital has seen in three years on December 4.

On a normal 24 hour shift, some 25 babies will be born, so it was certainly a busy shift for the dedicated doctors and midwives who were on duty.

The previous peak was the last week in December in 2012, when there were 47 births.

The baby boom has put extra pressure on the hospital.

"We've had demands put on our infrastructure which we would never have expected, and we've had the whole funding issue, and staffing issues," he said.

"We have a funding deficit, and we've had a funding deficit for the last number of years, and as our activity levels rose, the level of funding didn't increase to match that demand-led activity. So that was an issue for us. Even though the numbers have fallen back a little bit, we are still way busier than we were ever designed to be."

The figure for the number of births at the hospital will probably come in at a couple of hundred less than last year - but it will still be close to 8,500 births this year, which is still a big figure.

"Staffing levels are not as good as we would like them to be," says Dr Coulter-Smith.

The hospital is short about 50 midwives at the coalface, and it should have almost double the number of consultants.

"It's been a very difficult and demanding seven years, and I suppose for the first time there is a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel," he says, referring to the announcement made in June that the hospital will move to the site of the Connolly Hospital in Blanchardstown.

Dr Coulter-Smith has reiterated his view that the name of the Rotunda must remain on O'Connell Street after the move.

"The Rotunda is part of obstetric folklore," he said.

"It's the oldest maternity hospital in the world, we've been in existence for 270 years, so the Rotunda as an entity will continue to exist and it's very important that it does."

The Rotunda will be co-located with Connolly Hospital, Dr Coulter-Smith said.

"It will be the Rotunda Hospital, alongside Connolly. It will be linked, but those design decisions still have to be made.

"There will have to be substantial development of Connolly in order for it to host the Rotunda on site, so that development would have to happen in tandem with the re-development of the Rotunda," he says.

Meanwhile, one of the very positive developments that has happened in recent times is that the waiting lists for gynaecology at the hospital have improved significantly.


"The Rotunda Board funded an initiative with the Mater Private to allow us to see and treat some of our patients over in the Mater Private, so that's been a great assistance," he says.

"We are now in a position where we've been developing a plan to provide benign gynaecology services on Connolly, and that's going to get up and running in the New Year," Dr Coulter-Smith said.

Waterford native Professor Fergal Malone has been appointed as the next Master and Chief Executive of the Rotunda, and he is the 39th consecutive Master of the Rotunda since its inception in 1745.

But even though Dr Coulter-Smith has closed the door to the Master's office, the eminent doctor will continue to work as a consultant at the hospital and he has agreed to become a member of its board.

"It's one of the nice things about the hospital, that as a past Master you are still here," he said. "So at any one time, the current Master is going to be able to call on the experience of one or two people that have done the job previously."

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