Hospitals recorded a baby born either addicted to or severely affected by alcohol or drugs 113 times last year.

This represents one case every three days, which experts say includes a sharp rise in homeless pregnancy cases.

New figures obtained by RTÉ News under the Freedom of Information Act show the scale of Ireland's drug addiction problems and how it is affecting babies from birth.

According to the figures, which are the latest available, during 2018 hospitals across the country recorded 113 instances of a newborn baby being recorded as suffering from complications caused by their mother's substance misuse.

The 113 cases last year, which in some cases involve a baby born with multiple substance issues, include:

  • 77 addicted to illegal drugs their mother was using
  • 20 affected by illegal drugs
  • less than five addicted to legal drugs
  • nine affected by legal drugs
  • and less than five affected by alcohol misuse

The official figures are almost evenly split between 53 cases in Dublin and 60 in the rest of the country, which is the only breakdown provided by the Health Service Executive in order to protect individual patients' identities.

They follow a similar trend over the past five years during which almost 600 cases have been recorded, including:

  • 107 cases in 2017. This figure is split between 46 in Dublin and 61 in the rest of the country, and includes 79 cases of addiction to legal or illegal drugs, 27 cases of a baby being affected by legal or illegal drugs, and less than five cases of a baby born affected by alcohol misuse
     
  • 119 in 2016. This figure is split between 51 in Dublin and 68 in the rest of the country, and includes 95 cases of addiction to legal or illegal drugs, 27 cases of a baby being affected by legal or illegal drugs, and less than five cases of a baby born affected by alcohol misuse
     
  • 113 in 2015. This figure is split between 62 in Dublin and 51 in the rest of the country, and includes 96 cases of addiction to legal or illegal drugs, 16 cases of a baby born affected by legal or illegal drugs, and eight cases of a baby born affected by alcohol misuse
     
  • and 146 in 2014. This figure is split between 72 in Dublin and 74 in the rest of the country, and includes 100 cases of addiction to legal or illegal drugs, 48 cases of a baby born affected by legal or illegal drugs, and nine cases of a baby born affected by alcohol misuse

In all cases, the HSE said the figures relate to inpatient and day cases.

This means that as they do not include emergency admissions or outpatient attendances, the figures may underestimate the situation.

Although the overall annual trends remain similar, both treatment groups and leading doctors have warned they include a sharp rise in homeless pregnancy cases.

The Ashleigh Centre in Coolmine, which is Ireland's only dedicated drug addiction treatment centre for pregnant women and new mothers, said it saw up to 60 homeless women seek help in the first quarter of 2019, up from 30 over the same period last year.

Chief Executive Pauline McKeown and residential services manager Anita Harris also said they consistently keep at least five spaces at the centre free for pregnant women.

Dr Maeve Eogan of the Rotunda Hospital said the ongoing annual trend shows the issue is not being addressed.

She said she was aware of a spike in homeless pregnancy cases, and that while specialist nurses were in place in Dublin other positions are empty outside the capital.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Dr Eogan said the HSE recruitment embargo was having an adverse effect.

She said: "Those drug liaison midwives are the lynchpin of the service. They work between the maternity services and the addiction services. They coordinate the multi-discipline team.

"I believe some preparatory work has proceeded in Limerick and in Cork but unfortunately, because of the HSE embargo, those drug liaison midwives are not in place yet and that is a pity because as we can see, this is not just a Dublin problem, this is a national problem, and appropriate response can mitigate the risks."

In a statement, Minister for Children Katherine Zappone said she, the HSE and Tusla are deeply committed to mothers with addictions and their children.

Minister Zappone said the issue has been a constant focus for her department.

She added that Tusla social workers pay close attention to expectant mothers who are active drug users, with their health, their babies and risk factors regularly taken into account.