British hospital cuts abortion services to Irish women

The hospital is one of the main UK centres treating fatal foetal abnormality cases

Campaigners to repeal and retain the Eighth Amendment took to the streets of Dublin as the countdown to the referendum begins.

 

One of the main UK hospitals offering abortion services to Irish women in cases of fatal foetal abnormality has scaled back access due to staffing issues.

The Liverpool Women’s NHS Foundation Trust has limited services to those between 16 and 20 weeks pregnant whose babies have been diagnosed with having a chromosome abnormality.

This period is problematic as it comes before anomaly scans are usually carried out in Ireland – generally at about 20 weeks – potentially identifying problems including structural conditions such as absent kidneys, heart defects and anencephaly.

Termination for Medical Reasons Ireland (TFMR) Ireland, a group that assists parents who have received diagnoses of fatal or severe foetal anomalies during pregnancy, says the move has left it unable to advise people how to seek terminations.

The organisation maintains regular contact with the Liverpool hospital and said the cap on access to Irish women, due to a need to prioritise NHS patients in the UK, is a severe blow given the exceptional quality of care they provide.

One of its co-founders, Arlette Lyons, told The Irish Times the organisation was now investigating alternatives.

However, other hospitals and abortion services are considered to either offer inadequate care or to be relatively inaccessible.

“It’s very hard to give parents any direction if we don’t trust that they will be looked after,” she said.

Seeking guidance

TFMR Ireland was informed of the decision by hospital management this month after Irish parents had alerted them to their inability to attend. Since then, they have received more contacts from those seeking guidance but have been left uncertain as to what to tell them.

In a statement, Jeff Johnston, director of operations at the Liverpool hospital, said it has accepted self-referrals from women with complex pregnancy problems for many years, some of which led to terminations.

“The provision of these services are reliant upon our foetal medicine service having adequate capacity,” he said. “Unfortunately, it has not always been possible for us to accommodate all self-referrals in a timely fashion as we have to prioritise the delivery of NHS services.”

It is unclear if or when this situation might change in the future.

TFMR Ireland only refers women to the Liverpool Trust, a reflection of what it sees as the high levels of care offered by staff. Women are given private rooms and space to grieve with their babies, Ms Lyons said.

Alternative hospitals pose more difficulties – parents often prefer to travel by ferry for privacy and to avoid airport environments, while other private institutions are not considered suitable in care terms given the sensitive circumstances of fatal foetal abnormality related abortion.

“If a couple rang me tomorrow there is absolutely no way that I could recommend them where to go,” Ms Lyons said.