Women seeking abortions face shortfall in ultrasound facilities

HSE letter to State hospital groups highlights lack of abortion services

There is a shortfall of ultrasound facilities to test women seeking abortions under the new service to be introduced from next month, the Health Service Executive has admitted.

Issues also exist with the provision of anti-D medication to women seeking a termination who are rhesus negative, the availability of blood-testing facilities and with the existence of a point of contact in each maternity unit for referrals, according to a letter sent by HSE officials to the heads of the State’s hospital groups.

The HSE has contracted a private company, Affidea, to provide ultrasound services in connection with the provision of abortion from January 1st. Ultrasounds will be required in a number of circumstances, such as determining gestation and whether an ectopic pregnancy is present.

In the letter, the HSE said GPs will have access to a private provider of ultrasounds in Dublin, Cork, Galway and Letterkenny. However, “this means we have a shortfall in the southeast, southwest, midwest and midlands regions”.


As a result, the HSE has asked hospitals in these areas to provide a “maternity ultrasound service” to GPs. It says it expects the demand to be low and has promised to provide extra funding to support the service.

One of the main components of the new service is that, where needed, a GP can refer a woman to hospital, according to the letter from HSE national directors Liam Wood and John Hennessy earlier this month. Referrals will be needed where the pregnancy is over nine weeks, where complications arise, or where ultrasound or anti-D is required.

The letter asks that each of the 19 hospitals with maternity units have a contact numbers to which GPs can make a referral. “The contact number should be identified as being for benign gynaecology services, and will need to be available to all GPs and community providers in the area.”

According to the letter, women who are more than seven weeks and rhesus negative will require anti-D. This means all these women will need blood testing.

If a woman is rhesus negative and the foetus is rhesus positive, the interaction between their blood groups can affect future pregnancies.

About 15 per cent of rhesus negative women will need to have anti-D provided in hospital. “We are requesting that these services, blood grouping and provision of anti-D would be provided in a hospital setting. Additional funds will be made available to support these services.”

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is a former heath editor of The Irish Times.