Leading Irish hospital consultants have warned that women in Donegal and western counties are losing out on vital mental health services during pregnancy or after childbirth.

Women are also facing lengthy waits for gynaecological services due to the consultant recruitment and retention crisis, according to the Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA).

A new HIQA report on Ireland’s maternity services identified staffing shortages and poor infrastructure as threats to the future of services.

Letterkenny University Hospital

The report also criticised the HSE’s role in implementing the 2016 National Maternity Strategy.

IHCA President, Dr Donal O’Hanlon said the lack of funding for the National Maternity Strategy is affecting the one in five women who have mental health problems in pregnancy or after childbirth.

“Approximately 2,240 of these are likely to suffer from more serious mental illness and would benefit from advice from or referral to a specialist perinatal mental health service.

“Such facilities were due to be established in maternity network hubs to treat women directly and provide expert advice to other maternity units in the country. It is extremely disappointing that the €370,000 required for the operation of the Galway University Hospital Specialist Perinatal Mental Health Service has been diverted.

“This means that women in the Saolta Hospital Group western counties (Donegal, Galway, Leitrim, Mayo, Roscommon and Sligo) who need this support are being deprived of services which are available throughout the rest of the country.

“It is vital that all specialist perinatal mental health services are funded adequately because of the very negative consequences of perinatal mental health disorders for the mother, the baby, their relationship and that with the partner and other children.”

Dr O’Hanlon added: “It is very concerning and disappointing that four years into the lifetime of the National Maternity Strategy, the commitment to fund and implement its recommendations is being delayed. This is failing many, many women.

“Currently there are 31,719 women waiting for gynaecological services across our national public hospitals and almost a fifth of these women are waiting for 12 months or more.

“The consultant recruitment and retention crisis is a major factor and despite having the third highest birth rate in the EU, Ireland has less than half the EU average number of specialists in Obstetrics and Gynaecology. So far, only approximately 20 of the 100 additional consultants recommended in the National Maternity Strategy have been hired.”

The IHCA is now calling for “clear and consistent commitment” that the new Government will fund and resource the implementation of the National Maternity Strategy.

“The women of Ireland have been let down by our health services in the past and have been made many promises in recent years, which the Government and health service management must now honour,” Dr O’Hanlon said.