I thank the Minister of State for coming to the House to deal with this important issue, which concerns the midwifery-led unit in Cavan General Hospital. I am sure he has been briefed on the background to this unit, which was established back in 2004. Sixteen years on, it has delivered many babies to many happy mammies and daddies across the Border region and the midlands area.
In 2016, the national maternity strategy was launched and, as part of that, there was huge emphasis on promoting the importance of midwifery-led units. The strategy clearly states that there should be an emphasis on supported, assisted and specialised care pathways for maternity services. Its key goal was to develop an expansion of midwifery-led services. I cannot emphasise enough the importance of this service, not only to Cavan General Hospital but also to the whole of this island. If we are to make a comparison with the North, it has eight midwifery-led units whereas we have just two in the Republic. As I said, the first was established in Cavan General Hospital in 2004 and then a second unit was developed at Drogheda. I understand both units are out the door with bookings from eager parents and expectant mums and dads who want to use the service. We know the service is extremely professional and is an holistic and unique, natural pathway of care for parents.
It was disappointing that, in June, deep concern was raised that the service might be in any way diminished or pared back because, as I said, it is a very significant part of the maternity services in Cavan General Hospital. This came about in a very curious way and in a way that any of us would find concerning. It did not come in writing and nobody can tell me who gave the order, or anything like that, but a directive was given last June to staff within the midwifery-led unit to stop taking bookings. I raised this at the time with the then Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, and he picked up the phone and met with the midwives in the hospital. He gave them assurances that it certainly was not part of his or his Department's plan that there be any diminution of service in the midwifery-led units.
At the time, the Department requested a review of the service and I hope any review would seek the expansion of the capacity of the service. As I said, there are only two such services in the Republic and, therefore, the significance and importance of this cannot be overstated. In June, when there was concern that the service might be in any way diminished and the Minister got involved, the directive that had been given evaporated. While all of us would say that was a good thing because it removed the uncertainty for the staff and parents, nonetheless, the review was left hanging there. Clarity, guidance and direction are needed in terms of where that is going, what is its purpose and who has requested it. As I said, the Department seems to have taken this route after that particular incident in June. The review was promised for the end of September and it is now November, but the review has not happened or has not been published. I hope that, today, the Minister of State will be able to provide clarity on that.