Major plans to relocate Limericks Maternity Hospital to the University Hospital Dooradoyle are under way and are expected to cost in the region of €150 million.
The HSE Capital Development Project which is at the cost benefit analysis stage, is expected to be ”built and operational” by 2020.
”We are creating a centre of excellence that provides better care for patients and access to specialized services” said Fine Gael Councillor Daniel Butler.
Cllr. Butler who is also a member of the HSE Community Health Forum suggested that the move would result in a more ”effective use of resources”.
Frank Keane, General manager of Maternal and Child Health for the UL Hospital Group explained that although the Maternity was relocating to the same site as the University Hospital it would retain it’s independence.
”This move will solve a lot of the issues that we face as a stand alone hospital,” he commented.
Some of those issues currently facing Limericks Maternity Hospital include a lack of a blood bank laboratory on site,the urgent need for an intensive care unit (ICU) and a lack of X-Ray facilities.
The hospital which regularly preforms blood transfusions, keeping four units of O negative blood in storage, is unable to screen blood themselves.
”It’s a very standards based service, is extremely regulated and all the expertise are based in Dooradoyle. It’s such a different set up I’m not sure we’d have the capacity to handle it.
”Certainly if we have a screening emergency with a hemorrhage, we’d be better placed having a blood bank on site,”, Mr. Keane said.
Securing funding for the relocation has proved difficult as the budget for health has been significantly decreased in recent years while the social protection budget has dramatically increased.
”Traditionally they increased together but the health budget keeps going down despite there being a greater demand than ever before,” the former ambulance paramedic commented.
The knock on effect of this is that Limerick Maternity Hospital, which is the largest of the countries maternity units, is below the national average on the rate of obstetricians to births.
”The whole health care system is extremely litigious in this country, the public’s expectation has risen but the medical care system hasn’t been able to keep up with it,” Mr. Keane said.
The Ennis road hospital routinely uses Blood Bikes to bring patients blood samples to be ”cross matched and grouped and held” at the University Hospital Limerick.
As of May this year the free service,Blood Bikes Midwest, have been enlisted to transport urgently needed medical items such as blood, biological samples, medical notes, x-rays and scans for the UL hospital group.
The voluntary organization which currently consists of two motorcycles and one van, runs from 7 pm Friday evening to 7 am Monday mornings and saves the HSE the €300-400 fee that a taxi would charge for the same service.
The UHL group don’t rely on ambulances to carry blood because sometimes two-three are needed and they could be already engaged, instead a service level contract with a local taxi company who are specially trained is employed.
Mock drills are preformed twice yearly to test services and emergency response times but it still takes approximately 15 minutes for a Gardaí escorted taxi to transport blood over to the Ennis road hospital.
There are over 5,000 births per year in Limerick’s maternity accounting for nearly 7 per cent of all yearly national births.
The UHL blood laboratory unit which was opened in 1991, boasts a sterling record of care with no maternal deaths occurring in the 23 years since it’s inauguration.
Limericks Maternity hospital is currently the only one of 19 maternity units countrywide to not have the blood bank laboratory on site.