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Rotunda 'very much regrets' upset caused by TV series after criticism from Taoiseach

The series has faced criticism for being filmed at the maternity hospital despite coronavirus restrictions being in place.

LAST UPDATE | Sep 10th 2021, 8:13 PM

THE ROTUNDA HOSPITAL has said it “very much regrets any upset or anxiety” caused by the broadcasting of the new series filmed in the hospital during the Covid-19 pandemic.

However a spokesperson for the hospital added that “in arriving at its final decision to proceed with series three, Rotunda management gave careful consideration to allowing controlled access to one of two individual camera crew members, in the context of a very different infection control decision of potentially allowing widespread access to hundreds of partners each day”. 

RTÉ confirmed this morning that it will air the rest of the documentary series as planned, despite criticism in the wake of the airing of the first episode this week.

The Rotunda spokesperson said the hospital was “keenly aware of the strong positive reaction (including from very senior politicians) to the RTÉ Investigates: Inside Ireland’s Covid Battle documentary series which was broadcast in July 2020″. 

“That documentary was filmed at the height of the pandemic inside St James’ Hospital Intensive Care Unit, when even more restrictive conditions than have ever applied at the Rotunda were in place,” the spokesperson said.

They added that the Rotunda management team “were reassured to note that some of the same production staff involved in that much-lauded documentary were involved in series three of The Rotunda”.

“It was also noted by Rotunda management that the access guidelines in the hospital have always been significantly less restrictive than those that have applied to acute general hospitals, and this distinction still applies today, with the Rotunda still having vastly easier access for its patients and partners than acute general hospitals,” they said. 

The spokesperson added:

“The Rotunda very much regrets any upset or anxiety that the broadcast of this important documentary has caused, as none was every intended. 
“The Rotunda will continue to support and care for its patients and staff to the best of its ability, throughout both good times and challenging conditions. We will continue, in good faith, to always do our best for out patients and our families.” 

Criticism from government 

This afternoon, Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Health Minister Stephen Donnelly issued stinging rebukes of the decision by management at the Rotunda Hospital to allow filming for a television series to go ahead at the height of Covid restrictions. 

The Taoiseach said he didn’t think the production was appropriate.

“I don’t think it is appropriate that if partners were denied access that a TV crew should be allowed in,” he said in response to a question from The Journal at a press event to mark the end of his party think-in, being held in Co Cavan.

Martin said there needed to be consistency around the rules and that he could understand the public’s annoyance and anger in relation to the programme. 

He added that he was not privy to the decision-making process surrounding the production or the framework that allowed for the filming to go ahead.

However, he said we “can’t have one set of guidance for partners and another set of guidelines for the media when we are talking about Covid-19″. 

Minister Donnelly said he believes the Master of the Rotunda Hospital should answer questions in relation to criticism of the series. 

Also speaking to reporters at the think-in, he agreed that the Master needed to address the issue: 

“I think we certainly deserve an explanation and a statement from the Rotunda.”

Fianna Fáil Senator Lisa Chambers said she was “disgusted” to see the programme aired when women had been left alone and their partners had had to wait in car parks. 

She said it was wrong for the programme to proceed.

“RTÉ should have known better,” she said, adding that to say people are angry is an “underestimation”.  

When asked for a response to the Taoiseach and Health Minister’s comments this afternoon, a spokesperson for RTÉ said: “We have no comment to make.” 

Public anger

After the first episode aired on RTÉ Two on Wednesday night, new and expectant parents expressed anger that the hospital had allowed the crew to film while partners of pregnant people had their access restricted.

The show, which is in its third season, follows the pregnancy journeys of women and couples who attend the hospital. 

The latest season of the series was filmed from November 2020 to September 2021.

Filming began before Ireland had commenced its Covid vaccination programme.

In its statement today, a spokesperson for the Rotunda said: “During the period of November 2020 to September 2021, the majority of filming took place remotely through pre-installed fixed cameras and interviews were conducted off-site.

“On a number of occasions, minimal crew numbers (one or two maximum at a time) were present on site in the main hospital building.

“The Rotunda insisted that all necessary infection control measures were taken during filming, and that maximal Covid-19 discipline was adhered to at all times.”

Earlier today, a spokesperson for RTÉ has not yet received any formal complaints about the show. However, it has received six emails offering negative feedback.

Following the first episode maternity care campaigners said it failed to adequately portray how Covid restrictions impacted on people who gave birth in a hospital and their partners during the pandemic.

During a discussion on RTÉ’s Liveline yesterday, Linda Kelly, who is part of the #BetterMaternityCare campaign, told host Joe Duffy she was “shocked” that the restrictions were not addressed in the show.

“If they had actually documented what it was like to be pregnant and give birth during Covid then maybe you could understand it but they didn’t do that at all,” she said.

Yesterday, RTÉ and the Rotunda both defended the decision to proceed with filming in the hospital during the pandemic.

The broadcaster said it reduced footfall in the hospital to “the bare minimum” with a lot of filming taking place off-site.

- Additional reporting by Daragh Brophy and Hayley Halpin

Christina Finn & Ceimin Burke
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