Abortion service to use private firms for ultrasound facilities

HSE seeks tenders to furnish ultrasound due to length of public health system waiting lists

Private firms are to be used to provide scans for women as part of the provision of abortion services from next year, due to long waiting lists in the public health system.

The Health Service Executive (HSE) has asked private operators to tender for the provision of all forms of ultrasound at 12 sites across the country. Part of this service will relate to maternal care, including scans ordered by GPs for women seeking a termination of pregnancy, it is understood.

The tender document envisages the provision of ultrasound services at primary care centres in Letterkenny, Sligo, Galway, Mayo, Roscommon, Limerick, Cork city, Mallow, Kerry, Kildare, Louth/Meath and north Dublin city.

However, it says the HSE will also consider other options for locations where the services would be provided, including health centres, GP practices, local hospitals and “private locations”.


Clinical necessity

Under the planned abortion service, GPs would refer a woman for a scan if it was deemed clinically necessary. However, the Irish College of GPs (ICGP) has said there is “genuine worry” promised rapid access to ultrasounds will not be delivered.

Current delays in accessing scans generally are illustrated in the HSE tender documents, which reveal waiting list figures for several areas. In Waterford, 3,000 patients are waiting for an ultrasound and in South Tipperary the list has 1,000 patients on it, while in Letterkenny 400 patients are waiting.

Even though patients are seen more quickly in urgent situations, the existence of such lengthy lists is not viewed as compatible with the need to be able to refer women in crisis pregnancies quickly for ultrasounds.

Hundreds of ICGP members are expected to attend an extraordinary general meeting of the organisation on Sunday, which will discuss the concerns of some doctors about the issue. However, no motions will be taken.

The ICGP intends to start providing initial training for GPs willing to provide the service in mid-December, just two weeks before its planned introduction on January 1st.

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is Health Editor of The Irish Times