A leading hospital consultant has claimed that the number of cerebral palsy birth injuries could be reduced if more senior doctors were available to provide 24/7 cover for labour wards.
Dr Sam Coulter-Smith, Master of the Rotunda Hospital in Dublin, was speaking at a special conference convened to hear from doctors, midwives, the legal profession and families on how preventable cerebral palsy birth injuries to babies could be reduced.
He said that the number of babies born with cerebral palsy birth injuries had not reduced in the past twenty years despite an increase in foetal monitoring and births by Caesarean section, and acknowledged that a percentage of babies born with cerebral palsy were due to mistakes by hospitals and medical staff which could have been prevented.
Dr Coulter-Smith told the conference that junior doctors are being asked to make decisions regarding the healthcare of the mother and baby without the necessary experience, and that “there needs to be 24/7 cover of labour wards by senior consultants to address this problem”.
However, the consultant continued, senior doctors are only required to work between 8.00am and 8.00pm under the terms of their current consultant contracts and, for the remainder of the time, they can be at home on call and only have come to the hospital when there is an emergency.
Dr Coulter-Smith explained that the Rotunda Hospital had tried to reduce the number of cerebral palsy birth injuries by setting up a second tier of experienced junior doctors who are available outside “normal” working hours. However, he admitted, this policy was contrary to the demands of the Health Service Executive, who want the Rotunda Hospital to reduce their medical staff.
He added that he hoped the Health Service Executive would pay attention to the message from the conference because State compensation payments for cerebral palsy birth injuries each year amounted to €45million – equivalent to the Rotunda Hospital´s annual budget.