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'Shocked and disappointed': Pressure mounts to restore funding for breastfeeding support initiative

The HSE said it plans to provide funding for a new, revised model.

Image: Shutterstock/Lopolo

PRESSURE HAS BEEN mounting on the government to restore the €50,000 that was cut from the Baby Friendly Health Initiative (BFHI) which promotes best practice and support in breastfeeding.

The independent organisation, which has been active in Ireland for 19 years, is supported by the UN and the World Health Organization, and helps hospitals in supporting women who choose to breastfeed their babies.

This week, Labour’s Joan Burton questioned Minister for Education, Richard Bruton on why the HSE funds of €50,000 has been withdrawn from the programme, stating it makes no sense in the context that Ireland has one of the lowest breastfeeding rates in the developed world.

In a statement, the HSE said funding will be provided for a new, revised model.

Closure 

However, the organisation claims the withdrawal of funds has resulted in the closure of the scheme it operates.

In a statement, the National Committee of BFHI said last year, “without consultation or notice”, the HSE Health Promotion and Improvement, Health and Wellbeing Division reduced the grant aid it had been providing to the BFHI.

The statement continued:

The HSE then directed maternity units not to participate in BFHI activities, ceased all funding, and would not engage in any discussion of these precipitous HSE actions. This was a breach of the HSE grant aid agreement.
For the last 18 months the BFHI National Committee has attempted to engage in open and constructive dialogue with the HSE.

The group said it submitted reports each year of their activities, plans and governance, and the HSE had not raise any concerns, adding that an independently evaluated and published survey in March 2017 found that directors of midwifery and clinical midwife specialists in lactation were overall happy with the programme, citing that it thought there would be negative effects if it was discontinued.

The group thanked that hospitals and staff for their commitment over the many years.

The statement provided to TheJournal.ie said that the decision to revise the current model is part of a wider series of measures aimed at shaping a “more accessible and nurturing environment for all expectant and new mothers”.

It said these initiatives include the creation of a new online response www.breastfeeding.ie and identifying different ways to engage with maternity hospitals. The statement continued:

The Baby Friendly Initiative, and the WHO/UNICEF ‘10 Steps to Successful Breastfeeding’ which underpins it, is an important element in delivering this plan across all Irish maternity hospitals. We have identified improvements that are needed and a revised model of the Baby Friendly Initiative will commence implementation in early 2018.
This will help us to improve and to quality assure practices including the breastfeeding information and support provided to mothers in all our health services.

The HSE said it is committed to improving and enhancing the Baby Friendly model and to put in place better governance structures, adding:

Full engagement across all hospitals is key if the desired increase in breastfeeding rates is to be achieved. Our key objective is that all of the 19 maternity units in Ireland are designated Baby Friendly Hospitals.
The previous model achieved a maximum of nine designated maternity units during the past twenty years.

‘Huge disappointment’

Burton said there is “huge disappointment” that initiative has now been forced to close.

I and an awful lot of other people are shocked to find that the HSE has now arbitrarily axed all of the funding to the point at which the initiative, which was internationally supported, has closed down.
The Labour Party in our recent policy paper on supporting breastfeeding in Ireland recommended that the Baby Friendly Health Initiative in Ireland, an independent charity, should have its annual funding of €50,000 immediately restored.
I am calling on the Government to now restore this small level of funding.

Labour Senator Kevin Humphreys also raised the matter in the Seanad this week, calling for clarity on the matter from the Health Minister Simon Harris.

He said he finds the removal of funding as “quite disturbing, especially given that it could be funded right through our period of deep recession”.

The HSE was asked for comment but none was given by the time of publication.

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