The Health Minister has asked his department to engage with the HSE to establish how four consultant obstetricians at a Kilkenny hospital have “decided unanimously” that their unit is not a suitable location for abortion services.
Simon Harris said additional resources had been allocated to provide termination of pregnancy services this year, “including the provision of services at St Luke’s” in Kilkenny.
He said it was department policy that all 19 maternity units — not just the current 10 — should be in a position to provide terminations as per the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Act 2018.
On Saturday, the Irish Examiner reported that four consultant obstetricians at St Luke’s General Hospital had written to Mary Day, CEO of the Ireland East Hospital Group (IEHG), saying the “addition of a termination service is not possible for a multitude of challenging reasons” — reasons that were not specified.
Furthermore, “in the event of professional and values training of staff willing to participate in such procedures, the hospital remains an unsuitable location for these services”, the letter said.
The letter, from Ray O’Sullivan on behalf of himself and three other obstetricians, including prominent anti-abortion campaigner Trevor Hayes, was also sent to GPs.
Mr Hayes said St Luke’s did not have a referral pathway to Holles St maternity hospital, which is in the same hospital group. He said he understood Wexford General Hospital was also not providing terminations.
A spokesperson for the IEHG said it was working with St Luke’s to prepare for the implementation of terminations “as part of the national roll out of the service”, but that, “in order to provide this specialised service, the hospital must have the clinical capacity and must include appropriate training of all key personnel”.
The spokesperson said a values clarification programme had commenced, and further education would be ongoing.
It had advertised for an additional consultant obstetrician.
The National Women’s Council of Ireland called on the HSE to “urgently clarify how they will ensure abortion services are provided across all of the country’s maternity units”.
NWCI women’s health co-ordinator Cliona Loughnane said the consultants’ letter “shows blatant disregard for the health of women and the overwhelming will of the Irish people”.
She also raised concerns about the delay in introducing safety zone legislation “to prevent women being... intimidated when accessing a legal healthcare service”.
The department said the intention was to submit proposals to the minister as soon as possible.