Doctors sound alarm after SickKids shuts down Motherisk program

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WATCH ABOVE: The Hospital for Sick Children has pulled the plug on a program aimed at helping new and expectant mothers. That has some medical professionals speaking out over the loss and what it will mean going forward. Shallima Maharaj explains – Apr 17, 2019

The Hospital for Sick Children has shut down helplines for new and expectant mothers.

A statement issued by the hospital this week on Motherisk said the decision follows “years of declining grant funding leading to staff reductions” and unsuccessful attempts to find an “alternative host” for the program.

The axing of the program has been met with criticism by a number of health-care workers who relied on it for up-to-date information on medications and potential side-effects.

“Throughout Ontario, most centres do not have access to a maternal fetal medicine specialist within their hospital,” said Dr. Howard Berger.

Berger signed a petition geared at saving the helpline. He is also the head of maternal fetal medicine at St. Michael’s Hospital in downtown Toronto.

“Those specialties, those obstetricians — midwives, family physicians that don’t deal with these complex cases on a day-to-day basis will have to find somewhere else to get their information,” he said.

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Berger said he fears that more patients will subscribe to information portals that are far less reliable.

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“Google will sometimes point them in the right direction, and sometimes point them in the wrong direction,” he said.

“We see a lot of patients coming in to us… often making incorrect decisions because they’ve been fed the wrong information.”

Dr. David Naylor, interim president and CEO of SickKids, was not available for an interview on Wednesday.

“SickKids also believes the program needs to be reinvented, set up with a clear national mandate, and tied more closely to the obstetrics and primary care communities,” he said in a statement issued earlier this week.

“Physicians and scientists on our staff would be very happy to work with any new host organizations.”

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Motherisk came under intense scrutiny after an independent review in 2015. It came on the heels of a Toronto Star investigation, which found that tests performed at a lab associated with them were unreliable. The results had been used in many child-protection cases.

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The help lines were funded through external grants and donations.

A portion of the statement issued by SickKids highlighted three factors instrumental to their decision-making.

One of factors read “the difficulty in seeking private support for the program reflected adverse publicity arising from concerns about the quality of work carried out by a hair analysis laboratory that also carried the Motherisk name.”

The hospital said it considered re-naming and re-branding the helplines, but questions soon followed as to whether the service was best provided at a pediatric hospital.

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Doctor Danielle Watson is based in Bradford, Ontario. She not only used Motherisk professionally; it was instrumental through her pregnancy with her daughter.

“As a naturopathic doctor, there’s not a list of information — or accurate information — on natural health care products,” she offered.

“Having something like Motherisk that was up-to-date and easily accessible for my patients – it really helped people have that assurance.”

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Toronto Public Health issued a statement to Global News from So-Yan Seto, associate director of child health and development.

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Seto said they consider the program to be an important resource for clients.

“It supports evidence-based decision-making on medication and substance exposures that support positive child health outcomes during preconception, prenatal and breastfeeding periods,” Seto added.

In the meantime, one alternative source of information SickKids has recommended is U.S.-based MotherToBaby.

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