Researchers found “anger, distress and upset” in Tweets about the explosive content of the RTE documentary.
The governance of the entire maternity service was even called into question on Twitter after the show was broadcast, according to the newly published research.
Primetime documentary “Fatal Failures” – broadcast in January 2014 – reported on four baby deaths at the Midland Regional Hospital, Portlaoise .
The deaths had occurred over a six year period. The babies concerned were alive at the onset of labour but died either during the labour or within seven days after birth.
Among them was Mark Molloy who was pronounced dead just 22 minutes after he was born in January 24, 2012. His parents Mark and Roisin Molloy from Co Offaly were interviewed for the show and said their son “shouldn’t have died”. But they had to “battle” with the HSE to get answers into why the death occurred.
The documentary revealed another bereft mother was not even informed that a review had taken place into the death of her baby at the hospital
The show prompted the Health Minister at the time James Reilly to request the State’s top doctor to prepare a report on the issues raised in the programme. It resulted in a review by health safety watchdog, HIQA into the Midland’s hospital.
The study’s authors based at Pregnancy Loss Research Group and the National Perinatal Epidemiology Research Centre in Cork examined Twitter reaction to the programme. The research identified more than 3, 500 Tweets in relation to the controversy over a two month period.
The findings have been published in the latest edition of the JMIR Public Health and Surveillance journal.
The study found that at the height of the controversy “Twitter updates generated scepticism in relation to the management of not only the unit in question, which was banded as unsafe, but also the governance of the entire Irish maternity services.”
More than one in ten status updates on Twitter were by people who identified themselves as a parent.
The research found: “As the current affairs programme “Fatal Failures” aired, tweets indicated that the viewers of the episode were shocked and upset by what was reported. A number of the status updates indicated the frightening and distressing nature of the programme.”
Tweeters sympathized with the families who took part in the documentary for the perinatal loss they had experienced.
Examples of tweets from that period showing the “emotional reaction” to the footage are featured in the report.
One said: “So terrible looking at these beautiful babies that never got a chance to live their lives. Very distressing #rtept”
Another said: “Absolutely shocking #rtept Report Fatal Failures, heart goes out to families, should never have happened & should never happen again”
One said: “@RTE_PrimeTime fantastic report, impossible viewing, inspiring famililes, cruel, cruel system. Congrats. Hard not to be angry.”
The Midland’s Regional Hospital, Portlaoise is one of the 19 obstetric led units in Ireland. Ireland has the highest birth rate in Europe. There were 67, 462 births in Ireland in 2014 of which 330 were stillbirths.
The HIQA probe into Portlaoise Hospital – prompted by the documentary – interviewed 15 grieving parents or family members.
It revealed harrowing details of the treatment of grieving parents at the hospital. Some received the remains of their newborns in a metal box, on a wheelchair covered with a white sheet and pushed by mortuary staff.
In one case the box was not big enough and the dead baby boy was squeezed in.
The treatment of parents whose babies died at Portlaoise Hospital led to a call for new standards of care in hospitals for grieving parents.
The Irish Hospice Foundation was involved in the development of those standards – National Standards for Bereavement Care following Pregnancy Loss and Perinantal Death – which were launched this month.
The standards were developed in response to recommendations made following a review by Dr Peter Boylan of maternity cases at Portlaoise Hospital and the HSE’s own investigation in to the death of Savita Halappanavar at National University Hospital Galway.