Motherisk helpline for pregnant women shut down

A lack of financial backing is being blamed for the decision to shut down a program that provided medical advice to pregnant women and new mothers in Ontario.

The Hospital for Sick Children announced Tuesday that it was shutting down the Motherisk telephone hotlines it created in 1985.

“The decision follows years of declining grant funding leading to staff reductions, as well as unsuccessful efforts to secure an alternative host for the program,” SickKids officials said in a statement posted to the Motherisk website.

Motherisk operated two hotlines, through which it provided information about the risks of pharmaceuticals, medical treatments and recreational drugs during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

The hospital’s statement said the decision to shut down the hotlines was based primarily on financial considerations, with SickKids having to take money from other parts of its operations as grant and donation levels fell to zero.

“Without sustainable, secure funding and absent an alternative, reputable organization to host and fund the Helplines, SickKids has made the difficult decision to close the program,” SickKids interim president David Naylor said in the statement.

The lack of private funding was blamed partially on “adverse publicity” from the hotlines sharing a name with a discredited hair-testing program at SickKids. That Motherisk closed in 2015 after it was found to have provided unreliable results around drug and alcohol consumption for 25 years.

Call volumes to the hotlines remained high up until their closure. Naylor said he would like to see a national version of the program launched, ideally with closer ties to existing services for pregnant women. For now, SickKids is recommending women who would have used the hotlines instead seek help from services such as the U.S.-based MotherToBaby.

The hospital’s Motherisk clinic, a referral-only service for women who have been exposed to substances which could endanger their babies, will continue to operate.

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