‘We can’t keep sending women to England for abortion’, says  Master of the National Maternity Hospital

Dr Rhona Mahony, the Master of the National Maternity Hospital, has said the country cannot continue to pretend that Irish women aren’t having abortions and that she favours the repeal of the Eighth Amendment.

Speaking at the Labour think-in in Athy, Co Kildare, Dr Mahony said that, in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities, it is no longer tolerable that we are sending women over to the UK for termination.

“We can’t keep sending people to England pretending it doesn’t happen,”she said.

She also said the Irish health system is a “toxic place to work” and after that six years as Master of Holles Street she is “exhausted”.

“Six years in and I am exhausted, I really am,” she told delegates before insisting she still loves her job.

Dr Mahony also said there are too many managers within the HSE operating above the hospitals.

She cited a nine-month delay in appointing a consultant to head up an emergency department at her hospital and called for more power to be devolved to the hospitals.

“We have a HSE that is actually growing, 13% growth in the corporate HSE and a 40% growth in administrative roles above the hospitals. Is that really where we want to focus our finite resources?” she asked.

In a hard-hitting address to Labour members, she said she favoured a repeal of the Eighth for a variety of reasons relating to women’s health.

“We have, in Ireland, terminations only when there is a substantial risk to the life of the mother that can be removed only by terminating the pregnancy.”

Dr Mahony said this poses great difficulties because doctors are making decisions based on risk, trying to quantify a risk and also in certain conditions she said they have to wait until a woman is sick enough before she qualifies for having substantial risk to her life.

In some cases she said that can be “medical roulette” and it can be very challenging.

She added that if the law deals with right, medicine deals with risk and sometimes they come into conflict. Dr Mahony said that when she is dealing with patients she finds it very difficult as a doctor to know that they will make their own arrangements.

The Master of the National Maternity Hospital said there are huge difficulties when women travel away — even the practical issue of bringing the baby’s body home and the stigma associated with being on a plane in the context of a huge tragedy.

“You are separated from your family and your friends,” she said, adding that women don’t really want to talk about it and women must feel at some level that Ireland doesn’t want to recognise or acknowledge this,” she said.

Dr Mahony also said there are too many hospitals in this country. She said there are 49 acute hospitals in a population of 4.7m.

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