Health minister claims ‘significant progress’ in infant and maternity care

“Significant progress” was made in infant and maternity care in 2021, despite the challenges of Covid-19, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly has said while launching the National Women and Infants Health Programme’s Annual Report for 2021.

The National Women and Infants Health Programme was established in the HSE to lead the management, organisation and delivery of maternity, gynaecology and neonatal services, strengthening such services by bringing together work that is currently undertaken across the primary, community and acute care. The Programme acts as a single central authority on maternity care and as a reference point and resources for women’s health issues within the HSE, providing for much-needed coordinated oversight.

NWIHP’s 2021 report sets out a number of important developments and achievements, including:

  • a revised implementation plan for the National Maternity Strategy was published in Q4 2021, which sets out in detail the roadmap to ensure the National Maternity Strategy is implemented in full within the timeframe originally intended, presenting clearly all outstanding actions, their status and the timeframe required for each
  • lactation consultants are now in place in all 19 maternity services, 7.5 WTE of these were funded through funding provided to NWIHP in 2021
  • all 19 maternity services are now providing midwifery led care in the supported care pathway
  • 24% of women booked on the supported care pathway, for normal risk women
  • there are advanced midwife practitioners in all 19 maternity services, with an additional 6 funded in 2021
  • 15 maternity services are now offering early transfer home
  • 12 maternity services have Home-from-Home rooms, which facilitate birthing in less clinical delivery rooms
  • the aim of having a minimum of 6 obstetrician/gynaecologists in all regional hospitals was further progressed with additional targeted investment. In 2021, a further 8 consultants were funded
  • NWIHP continues to prioritise investment in medical social work for maternity services, with a plan to ensure there is a dedicated service in all 19 maternity services; to date, 11 WTE’s have been funded
  • a new initiative, the HSE Obstetric Event Support Team (OEST), was launched in August aimed at improving the learning from adverse events at a national level, leading to safer and improved high-quality of care
  • NWIHP continue to meet the 6 maternity networks on a quarterly basis (COVID-permitting). The maternity networks are providing clinical support and leadership within each hospital group

 Minister Donnelly said, “The National Women’s and Infants Health Programme has undertaken very important work in the development of women’s health services since its establishment in 2017, particularly in maternity services, but also in the areas of gynaecology, fertility and sexual assault treatment services. The effect of that work is reflected in this Report where we can clearly see the benefits for the women and families accessing health services.

“Women have more choice when it comes to maternity care in 2021, with 24% of pregnant women booked on the Supported Care Pathway. More women could also access more services closer to home, with additional community midwifery services and Early Transfer Home services becoming available.

“We also saw brand new services coming online, with additional ambulatory gynaecology clinics, as well as the establishment of specialised endometrial and menopause clinics in Tallaght and the NMH.

“2021 was a challenging year for the HSE, with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the cyber-attack on HSE systems, but this Report shows that the Programme continued to make significant progress in 2021.

“In Budget 2022, I secured additional funding of almost €9 million for the implementation of the National Maternity Strategy. This will ensure the continued implementation of the Strategy into 2022 and beyond, in line with the revised Implementation Plan. As Minister, I have made it clear that I am determined to improve access, affordability and quality of women’s health services and as part of that, I want to ensure the ongoing development of safe, trusted, standardised, maternity care which supports better outcomes for women.”

Mr Kilian McGrane, the Director of the National Women and Infants Health Programme added: “Despite the major challenges of 2021, our maternity services performed very well and continued to keep women, babies, and staff safe, while delivering quality care in very challenging circumstances. Despite these challenges, 2021 saw a number of important milestones achieved, which we plan to build upon.” 

The NWIHP was established in the HSE to lead the management, organisation and delivery of maternity, gynaecology and neonatal services.

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