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Hospitals at bursting point as baby boom takes its toll

OUR maternity hospitals are in crisis trying to cope with the baby boom, it was revealed today.

One expert has described the hospitals as "bursting at the seams."

"They are accelerating women in labour to get them through the labour wards, the cases of section rates are almost at 30pc," midwife Philomena Canning told the Herald.

"The system is bursting at the seams. The problem is that doctors like to practise in central locations -- they want the women to come to them."

It's also been disclosed how expectant Dublin mums are being cared for at the Pearse Street Primary Care Centre because conditions have become so cramped at Holles Street.

Pregnant women are waiting up to 12 weeks before they get their first scan at the National Maternity Hospital.

The Dublin hospital is now caring for at least 10,000 women every year -- a huge jump from 6,000, within just 10 years.

It is believed that one-fifth of all Holles Street expectant mothers will be initially cared for in the Pearse Street building.

The facilities were put in place to make it easier for women locally to access care. There are similar facilities at the Coombe.

On its website, Holles Street said that the centre "assists in alleviating pressure within the hospital premises".

Overcrowding

As a result of overcrowding, women are being pushed through the system at a fast rate. In the case of prenatal scans, a private patient may obtain three or more ultrasound scans -- one at eight weeks to date the pregnancy, one at 20 weeks to check for foetal abnormalities and one after 32 weeks to check for placenta previa.

World respected Irish obstetrician Mr Patrick O'Brien said that maternity hospitals are struggling with an expanding population. The spokesperson for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in London, said that staff are doing their best with limited resources.

Mr O'Brien, whose patients include a host of top celebrities, says the economic crisis is putting a serious strain on maternity services.

"The birth rate has continued to rise -- the recession has caused this which means that it is very busy over here," he said "It's tough because there is a huge problem with beds."

"I've been over and back to Ireland and I know a lot of people working there," he added.

In December, the annual report of the National Maternity Hospital on Holles Street showed just how crowded conditions at the hospital are.

It reported that the maternity hospital coped with more than 40 babies being born in the space of a day on several occasions during 2009. The baby boom also left the hospital struggling with 20 births in just eight hours on other occasions.

The hospital's master, Dr Michael Robson, said that the hospital did not restrict the numbers of women it accepted, despite rising birth rates.

"The problem, as in previous years, is that there is no other place for these women to deliver," he said.

Dr Sam Coulter Smith, from the Rotunda Hospital, said that the maternity services were suffering a fall in funding.

Meanwhile, Herald columnist and TV3 star Colette Fitzpatrick spoke of the indignity of lying on a trolley as her waters broke. The Herald columnist said she had little privacy when she was examined on a trolley before giving birth and then spent two nights in a room with five other women.

"Private or public care aside, it is an indictment of the shambles of a health system that any woman is forced into a situation like that at a time when they are so vulnerable," she said.

"When I went into labour and was admitted to the hospital, I sat outside an office, a nightdress and robe in hand, waiting to be brought to a room to be examined before I was brought into a delivery room," she recalled.

Jeanette Byrne, of Patients Together, said there are constant problems with overcrowding and care facilities need to seek alternative centres, adding that "every patient deserves the right to proper care."

Mr O'Brien said that there is a real need for women to go home earlier in the health system within as little as 24 hours in some cases.

Reasonable

"The joint statement with the RCOG and the Midwifes Association is that home birth is a perfectly reasonable," he said.

"But it is labour intensive -- you need two midwives and if you are short-staffed it's not ideal. And one third of all women who start labour at home are transferred to a hospital after birth."

Self-employed midwife Philomena Canning said Ireland has one of the most medicalised systems in the world but that expectant mums women should not be treated the same as sick patients.

"The formula and management of the system is not appropriate for women," Ms Canning said. "Between 85 and 90pc of pregnant women are healthy."

The National Maternity Hospital Holles Street said that the recent development in Pearse Street reduces overcrowding."I am delighted with our recent development in Pearse Street PHC, it has been a wonderful move," a representative said.

clairemurphy@herald.ie