Holles Street master calls for availability of abortion

Rhona Mahony also tells Labour think-in of toxic working conditions in health service

Working conditions in the Irish health service are "toxic" and are a disincentive to attracting and retaining medical professionals, the master of the National Maternity Hospital has said.

Rhona Mahony also called for the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution, which gives equal right to life to the mother and the unborn, to be repealed "for a variety of reasons relating to women's health".

Dr Mahony made her comments during a speech on the health service on the second day of the Labour Party think-in in Athy, Co Kildare.

“The system is pretty toxic, you have long hours, a lot of pressure and not enough staff,” she said.


“Practising medicine is brilliant, it’s a brilliant job. Six years in [as master] I’m exhausted but I love going to work. But you have to ask why so many doctors being trained here are leaving the system.”

Fertility rate

She said


is “not an easy place to practise medicine”, noting that demands on the health service have increased due to an increasing population, higher fertility rate and longer life expectancy.

Dr Mahony, who has been master at Holles Street since 2012, also said women cannot continue travelling to England to have abortions.

“We have in Ireland terminations only when there is a substantial risk to the life of the mother that can be removed only by terminating the pregnancy,” she said. This poses difficulties, she said, because doctors are making decisions based on risk.

“This poses great difficulties prior to foetal viability because we are making decisions based on risk, trying to quantify a risk and also in some cases we have to wait until a woman is sick enough to qualify. In some cases, that is medical roulette.”

Short political cycles

Dr Mahony also said Ireland has lurched from “health reform to health reform” in short political cycles and added that it will take a generation before the health service is “fit for purpose”.

A part of the problem, she said, was a “disordered infrastructure” that does not suit modern medicine.

“We have a really bureaucratic health service delivery and that is a problem because it means there is an inability to make decisions and get things done. I think that’s one of our biggest challenges. We also have a chronic under-investment in people and how they work and supporting them to deliver complex healthcare.”