Outrage as HSE denies homebirths for women who live far from hospitals

The HSE is facing criticism from one fifth of expectant mothers, after denying their choice of a homebirth. 

In a letter seen by the Irish Examiner, the HSE National Women and Infants Health Programme recommended in July that all expectant mothers who are using the HSE National Home Birth Service need to live a maximum of 30 minutes blue light distance from their nearest maternity hospital. 

This recommendation comes as the HSE National Home Birth Service is being moved from community care to hospital care. Midwives were reassured that this change would not cause huge disruption, but this no longer seems to be the case.

The Community Midwives Association has hit back at the HSE’s latest suggestion, arguing that it is infringing upon women’s human rights. The group outlined that these changes would be detrimental, especially for those living in rural areas.

"That is all fine for Dublin. This does not equate across the rest of the country,” said Ali Murphy, chairwoman of the Community Midwifes Association. 

“We were promised from the beginning that the service would transfer as is, they are not doing that.”

Homebirths have come under scrutiny in recent months. In June of this year, homebirths were suspended in the mid-west when a Limerick mother died after giving birth at home to a healthy son. However, midwives insist that if these changes go ahead, it will only lead to more tragedies.

The CMA is particularly worried that more women could end up choosing to risk ‘free-birthing’ their babies without supervision.

Ali Murphy spoke about how this implementation could be dangerous for both mothers and their babies. 

“It is my strong belief that free-birthing is on the rise,” she explained. “The HSE is going to have blood on their hands. Women want choice, they want to be able to birth their babies where they want to birth their babies.”

Since the pandemic, homebirths have become more popular amongst pregnant mothers, due to visitor restrictions and health concerns at the time. In 2020, almost 650 women in Ireland chose to give birth at home, compared to 260 homebirths in 2019.

A spokeswoman for the HSE has said that they will not comment until the proposal has been thoroughly reviewed.

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