Sunday 16 December 2018

Sinead Ryan: Unkindest cut as babies pay for politicians' failings

Of all the people troubled by our financial failings, who do you consider the least accountable? I mean, not even a teeny, tiny bit responsible? Well, it's a teeny, tiny newborn infant, isn't it? And yet, shockingly and outrageously it is they who are suffering in the latest cut-backs made necessary because we adults couldn't manage our economy properly.

Crucial check-ups by public health nurses -- which every mother is both familiar with and immensely grateful for, are not being carried out on time because of a staff shortage due to the recruitment moratorium.

Now mums will fondly remember the fear and trepidation of entering the public health clinic for the first time with your tiny precious baby. Nervous in case something was wrong, or more likely, in case YOU were doing something wrong; relieved beyond words to find out your baby was normal, healthy and the proper weight.

These nurses do much more: they check for hearing, eyesight, muscle development and a hundred other things that would send you into a maternal tail-spin of worry if you knew what they were. Calm and reassuring, they handle thousands of infants just like yours, but they would pick up instantly if something wasn't quite right.

The checks are at set points in baby's first two years and should be strictly observed to meet with developmental stages.

But it turns out that in places like Dublin South-West, only 6pc of children are being screened at the right time. In Dun Laoghaire, only one in five are seen at the right stage; in Wicklow, just 17pc. This is disgraceful.


In addition, a public health nurse is supposed to call to your house within 48 hours of your discharge from hospital. Up to 30pc of mothers are not being visited on time -- remember this is the stage where your baby blues kick in -- or their perilous counterpart, post-natal depression.

Just consider the irony: in order to save money, the HSE is cutting back on nurses and yet the problems which they might encounter and refer onwards quickly, such as blindness, hearing loss, autism and muscular-skeletal disorders are instead being put on the back-burner until it's obvious to the world and his wife that something's wrong with the baby, only for it to be too late, or too expensive, to do anything about it. As a disservice to our tiniest citizens, it is shameful.

I remember my first baby didn't walk for 16 months. Actually, she didn't move at all. "They're all different," said my mother, after my nephew got up and ran at 10 months old. "She's fine, I'm sure," said a friend.

But it was the kind, lovely public health nurse who suggested that, due to the circumstances of her delivery, she might have a hip-joint out of place.

Yes, cue predictable panic, but the process thereafter was smooth. There was an immediate consultant referral, some tests and finally (and embarrassingly), an instruction to stop carrying her about the place all the time. She was fine, and hasn't stopped running since. I can still see that nurse's face, as she sat telling me that maybe we needed to get baby checked out. Here is the rush of emotions that accompany such news: (a) total abject failure as a mother, (b) panic in case something's really wrong and, (c) reassurance that this nurse knows what to do.


Not getting those vital check-ups on time is telling children we really don't care what happens them.

It's also telling a mother the system is too busy and under-resourced for her to have a baby just now and it bodes ill for our health service in that child's future.

I truly hope our politicians can sleep at night knowing that fretful babies and anxious parents cannot, because of their abject failings.

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