We wish to extend our sympathies to Sarah Williams and Emmet Henaghan, whose baby boy Kai David Williams Henaghan was stillborn in May 2011. It is a terrible tragedy for both the parents and midwife and one that sadly effects around 230 families each year in Ireland. The case was brought before the Coroner's Court earlier this month and a verdict of misadventure was found. In addition to his verdict, the Coroner John O'Dwyer made three recommendations, which we would like to address below.
1. The Coroner recommended two midwives attend each birth. The HSE already recommends that there are two midwives present at a home birth. This is due to become mandatory in the near future. The service is provided by the HSE through independent midwives and so it should be the HSE's responsibility to ensure that the service they provide is able to adhere to their guidelines. At present there are simply not enough midwives to supply the demands for home birth in Ireland and enforcing the new rule, without taking steps to increase the numbers of midwives will put huge pressure on the service.
2. The Coroner has recommended that an ambulance be put on standby once a Home Birth mother is in labour. This is something already practiced by Maternity Units that offer a Home Birth service. However in practical terms ambulances will always operate on a first come first served basis.
3. The Coroner has recommended that distance from a hospital be taken into consideration when approving a home birth. There is a certain amount of risk when a woman lives a distance from the hospital whether it is a home birth or planned hospital birth. Approximately 0.4% of mothers deliver their babies before reaching the hospital they planned to give birth in. It is much safer for a midwife to travel to a labouring woman's home to deliver her baby than for a labouring woman to birth at the side of the road. Yet it has remained the Government's policy to either close or downgrade smaller hospitals leaving women with even fewer maternity care choices and many of them with huge distances to travel to reach their local provider.
Aside from the issue of a mandatory second midwife, we do not know whether the HSE will fully adopt these recommendations. If you have any concerns about these recommendations or indeed about the case itself please contact a member of the committee.