The HSE's proposal to restrict homebirth services to women living within 30 minutes of a maternity hospital has been widely condemned.

TD: Families are ‘deeply worried’

A Cork TD has urged the Government to reject what she called an “irresponsible and dangerous” proposal to restrict homebirth services to women living within 30 minutes of a maternity hospital.

Speaking in the Dáil yesterday, Social Democrats TD Holly Cairns said the HSE’s proposal would force families into already overstretched hospitals.

Addressing the Minister of State with responsibility for Public Health, Wellbeing and National Drugs Strategy, Frank Feighan, TD, Deputy Cairns said homebirths are safe and that services should be further developed, not shut down.

Deputy Cairns said the proposal, which was issued by the National Women and Infants Health Programme (NWIHP) in July, would only serve to perpetuate the misinformation that homebirths are not safe.

“Rather than addressing the actual problems with the maternity services, time and energy is being wasted on this plan which has left thousands of families deeply worried about their reproductive choices,” said Deputy Cairns.

The deputy then asked the minister to clarify whether the proposal is a political decision and what plans the Government has to address the 100 unfilled posts in maternity services in hospitals in Munster.

“This must be a political or managerial decision because it is not evidence based,” said the Cork South-West TD.

The Social Democrat continued: “This is the utterly ridiculous basis of the plan.

“If homebirths can only occur within 30 minutes of maternity hospitals, then all pregnant women should never be more than 30 minutes from a maternity hospital as they can go into labour at any stage.”

Responding to the deputy, Minister Feighan said that when making the proposal, the NWHIP took into account a range of factors including the historic transfer rate into maternity units of mothers who laboured at home in the National Homebirth Service.

He said the primary reasons why women were transferred, the method of transfer, and the need to factor in ambulance response times were all considered carefully in the proposal.

“If a woman has an emergency in a maternity hospital and a category 1 caesarean section is required, the woman must get to theatre within 30 minutes,” said Minister Feighan.

“In the event of a serious risk to a mother or baby being identified by the self-employed community midwife, this recommendation is designed to ensure the best possible chance of getting to a maternity hospital in a timely manner to ensure the best outcome for mother and baby.”

Yesterday’s discussion in the Dáil followed a major protest in Cork city on Sunday calling for access to the HSE’s National Home Birth Service to remain unchanged.

The HSE was contacted for response but none was received as of going to print on Wednesday.