Professor Michael Turner said funding and staffing levels are failing to keep up with Ireland's rising birth rate
Four new maternity hospitals will be needed in order to address the increasing risks associated with giving birth in Ireland, according to a leading expert.
Michael Turner, the lead for the HSE Clinical Programme in Obstetrics and Gynaecology said the health service is “awash with reports” - but the government needs to take action.
New Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) figures show the number of births in Ireland have increased by 26% over the past 17 years.
Professor Turner - who is also head of the Centre for Human Reproduction at UCD - said the government needs to invest now with a view to the long term future of maternity services in Ireland.
“Unfortunately at a political level the dividend does not come in the next election but we need to be thinking in terms of investing for 20 and 30 year’s time,” he said.
“We need to invest. The earlier you invest in life the greater the dividend.”
The research also suggests there has been a four-fold increase in caesarean section rates over the past 30 years.
This is partly because women are having babies when they're older and as a result of the growing obesity problem.
The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) general secretary Liam Doran said there is a need for a “significant annual increase” in the number of midwives in Ireland.
Mr Doran said the country will need more than 100 new midwives every year for the next four years to reach the target set out in National Maternity Strategy.
Professor Turner said the demands and expectations on the health service are increasing all the time with funding and staffing levels failing to keep up with Ireland’s rising birth rate and risk profile:
“Although many of the obstetric trends in Ireland are challenging, Irish maternity units continue to deliver results which are among the best in the world,” he said.
"If we wish to maintain this record we will need to invest to take account of adverse trends whilst constantly striving to coordinate and improve practice in Irish maternity services.”
Professor Turner was speaking ahead of an ESRI conference in Dublin today which is examining the increasing use of caesarean sections in Ireland and the associated risks for mothers and infants.