A new mother-and-baby home scandal has come to light with reports of a near 70 per cent mortality rate at Bessborough in Cork in the 1940s.
The shocking new report, carried in the Irish Examiner newspaper, highlights government concerns at the time over the infant death rates.
The story comes just two months after the Tuam scandal which prompted the establishment of a state commission to investigate practices, deaths, illegal adoptions and vaccine trials at the country’s mother-and-baby homes.
But new material uncovered by the paper in the Cork City archives shows an official investigation carried out by the Cork County Medical Officer in 1943 confirmed a death rate of 68% at the home.
The 1943 investigation was ordered on foot of inquiries from a Department of Local Government inspector.
The then Cork County Medical Officer Dr Robert Condy prepared two separate reports about Bessborough for the Cork County Manager in 1943 and 1944.
He expressed ‘grave concern about the habitual high infant mortality rate’ at the home.
Dr Condy’s first report confirms most of the children were listed as dying from ‘debility’, some from gastroenteritis, and ‘a small number’ due to prematurity.
His report also speculates that a lack of adequate nursing qualifications by staff may have been a reason for the large number of children dying there.
Dr Condy wrote: “The Sister in charge of this home has no nursing qualifications and no hospital training in infants and children apart from two months in Temple Street Hospital, Dublin.
“This may or may not be a cause but I suppose a qualified Nurse and specially qualified in infant feeding should be appointed for 6-12 months. The figures could then be compared with the previous term.”
The Irish Examiner also carries details from a second report prepared in January 1944 by Dr Condy which also examined the qualifications of the staff.
The second report records that only two of the four staff members in the maternity section of the home were State- registered nurses, with none having qualifications in treating children.
He wrote: “There is therefore only one Nurse in this section who possesses the CMB [Central Midwives Board] Certificate, and no member of the Nursing staff has undergone any special training in infant hygiene and dietetics.”
A similar lack of qualifications was present in the three nuns running the section in the infants’ home according to Dr Condy.
He also took issue with the nuns boarding out children to foster parents from as early an age as just six weeks old.
He added: “I am informed that the age at which infants are discharged from this section for boarding-out, averages around one year but infants have been boarded out at as early an age as six weeks.
“It would seem undesirable that infants should be separated from their mothers at such an early period.”
The paper says that both reports from 1943 and 1944 confirm that the State was aware that a ‘habitual’ high child death rate was occurring at Bessborough.