herald

Tuesday 24 October 2017

HSE rapped for slow response to baby deaths

HSE press officers could not be contacted on Friday last about the baby infection crisis in Belfast -- because they were at "crisis training".

Media trying to get a comment from the HSE to allay public fears in the Republic were told the press officers were not available.

It was seven hours before HSE staff were able to comment on the deaths of three babies from an infection at a Belfast maternity hospital.

The health service said their media personnel had been taking part in a "crisis training exercise".

The Irish patients' representatives have slammed the slow response from the HSE to the news that babies had died in neonatal units in the North.

Representatives from the Department of Health and Health Surveillance Centre -- which is Ireland's specialist agency for the surveillance of communicable diseases -- referred questions about the bacteria pseudomonas to the HSE press office but there was no one available to fully allay concerns.

An official response was issued to this paper seven hours after the first queries were made.

Officials in Belfast today revealed that none of 24 babies at Belfast's Royal Jubilee Maternity's neo-natal unit tested for the infection have shown signs of an active pseudomonas.

Over the past fortnight, three babies died after contracting the bacterial infection.

Five babies are being closely monitored because tests showed they had the bacteria on their skin.

However, doctors have stressed that this is not causing an active infection.

Northern Ireland's chief medical officer Michael McBride said the priority was to get on top of the infection and to support parents.

"It is tragic that three babies have died and it is reassuring that no babies have shown any sign of active infection," he said.

However, the HSE was under pressure today to explain why it was so slow to reassure parents here.

Stephen McMahon from the Irish Patients Association said that it was unacceptable practice as mums-to-be needed to know that hospitals in the Republic were safe.

clairemurphy@herald.ie

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