Government to issue abortion guidelines to fill ‘information vacuum’

Doctors say women’s wellbeing is threatened by rush to bring service into operation

Minister for Health Simon Harris is determined to bring in services by January, but his “commitment to providing care for women in this country will not waver”, said a spokesperson. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

Minister for Health Simon Harris is determined to bring in services by January, but his “commitment to providing care for women in this country will not waver”, said a spokesperson. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

 

Milestone clinical guidelines for the provision of abortion services are set to be circulated next week.

Government officials are hoping the circulation of the guidelines will help to address some of the concerns that have been aired to date about the planned introduction date of January 1st for abortion services.

Senior doctors including the former master of the Coombe Women and Infants University Hospital Prof Chris Fitzpatrick have complained the lack of published guidelines has left medical practitioners in an “information vacuum”.

Prof Fitzpatrick claimed rushing the service into operation posed “a serious threat to the health and wellbeing of women”.

While final clinical guidelines will only be released once the Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy Bill is passed into law, sources have said a draft of the plans are ready and will be circulated.

A meeting of key stakeholders is to be held on Monday, where it is expected the HSE will brief senior clinicians on the updated plans for the roll-out of the services.

Minister for Health Simon Harris will open the meeting, which will be attended by maternity hospital masters, the Irish College of General Practitioners and the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. Medical Council guidelines will also have to be updated once the Bill becomes law.

‘Work together’

Mr Harris said the Government is proceeding with plans for a January introduction date. Dr Peter Boylan, who was appointed to help the Government introduce the services, has called on doctors to “work together” to ensure this happens.

A spokeswoman for Mr Harris said it remained his “absolute commitment to bring in services in January. As referenced by Dr Boylan today, delays to the service will result in more women having to travel abroad.

If everyone works together on this, women can benefit from this service being in place on time

“The Minister accepts some medical practitioners are raising genuine concerns and he is committed to working with them to address those issues.

“However, the Minister’s commitment to providing care for women in this country will not waver. He believes there should be no unnecessary delays to the introduction of this service. The Minister knows clinicians will continue to provide leadership on this issue. The Minister looks forward to engaging with the various stakeholders at a meeting this Monday.”

Dr Boylan said on Friday the service will not be perfect from the beginning, but it would be possible to deliver the care for women.

‘Hiccups’

“It should be operational, but that will depend primarily on the doctor being willing to provide the service. Inevitably there will be hiccups, that is to be expected. I think a lot of this is just anxiety about change. If everyone works together on this, women can benefit from this service being in place on time.”

Some members of the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the national professional and training body, have called for an extraordinary general meeting of the organisation to debate a motion that the implementation of abortion legislation “cannot” commence next month and “should not take place until these risks are addressed”.

In a statement on Friday, the institute said it was developing draft guidelines in anticipation of the introduction of abortion legislation but emphasised it had no role or responsibility in the delivery of services, which was the remit of the HSE. However, it said members were entitled to express an opinion, particularly as to the safety and readiness of such services.