Intensive care unit 'poor facility'
The state health watchdog has refused to say that every maternity hospital in the country is safe.
Amid controversy over baby deaths, the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) said it was up to the Health Service Executive (HSE) to stand over its hospitals.
Before an Oireachtas committee hearing into the Midland General Hospital in Portlaoise, Hiqa chiefs were pressed as to whether expectant mothers were safe using the hospital.
Mary Dunnion, acting director of regulation at the watchdog, said it was impossible to say so.
"I don't think anybody can say every hospital is safe, because risk is inherent in all clinical services," she told TDs and senators.
Ms Dunnion said Hiqa consulted obstetrics experts about the Portlaoise hospital as part of their latest investigation, which led to a scathing report into care at the facility which was released last week.
It found that a "majority" of expectant mothers were safe because they were experiencing normal pregnancies and were healthy.
But she added there were concerns for pregnant women who were considered "at risk" and who may need to be transferred to another hospital for expert care in the event of something going wrong.
The intensive care unit at the Midland General Hospital was a "poor facility" and "not conducive" to modern day standards, Ms Dunnion added.
The remarks come as another investigation has been launched into the death of a baby at Cavan General Hospital yesterday, which Hiqa said it was not asked to investigate despite four newborn babies dying there within two-and-a-half years.
Despite public calls last May by former health minister James Reilly for an independent inquiry, Hiqa said no formal request had been made by government.
Phelim Quinn, Hiqa chief executive, told the Oireactas hearing it was planning a "governance review" of the Midland General Hospital last year after receiving unsolicited information which sparked "significant concerns".
But revelations about the deaths of five babies at the hospital in an RTE investigation prompted a full investigation.
Mr Quinn said since Hiqa was set up in 2007, it had carried out seven statutory investigations, most of their work being reactive.
These had resulted in a series of recommendations to the HSE and Department of Health.
Mr Quinn said there had been "significant deficits" in the uptake and implementation of recommendations by the healthcare watchdog.