There is no way that reproductive health services which the Government or Health Service Executive wants to provide at the planned new national maternity hospital could be stopped or watered down due to any religious ethos, the Minister for Health has said.
Stephen Donnelly said no religious ethos could be imposed at the planned new hospital that would impact on services under any circumstances.
“That is an absolute red line,” he said.
The new hospital is earmarked to be developed on a site on the existing St Vincent’s hospital campus in south Dublin.
Mr Donnelly was speaking at the Oireachtas select committee on health on Tuesday where concerns were raised by Róisín Shortall of the Social Democrats and David Cullinane of Sinn Féin at the potential implications of the religious ethos of the owners of the site for patient services after the new hospital was opened.
Ms Shortall said there was a lot of concern that a new entity created to replace St Vincent's Healthcare Group, the existing owners of the site – to be known as St Vincent's Holdings – would operate on the basis of the same ethical code and have an unchanged constitution.
Sterilisations and contraception
At present, she said, reproductive health services such as sterilisations or contraception were not provided to women at St Vincent’s hospital and it was hard to see how that situation would change under the new structure
In reply, the Minister said: “There will be no hospital created or put in place that denies women access to any of those services.
“The Government and HSE will decide and that is the only way we can proceed.”
Mr Donnelly said he had sought and had been given clear assurance that the religious ethos of the owners of the site could not impact on services decided upon by the Government or the HSE.
“My unambiguous position is that that will not be allowed to happen,” he said.
However he said he understood some well-respected people had a different view. He said he would be happy to ask his officials and lawyers to look at evidence provided by those with concerns.
Separately, the Minister confirmed to Fine Gael TD Colm Burke that officials working on the Sláintecare reform plans were considering that long-planned new hospitals in Cork and Galway exclusively for patients requiring elective care should only deal with day cases .
Mr Donnelly said the thinking of Sláintecare officials was that “you maximise the quality and speed of care for less complex procedures thereby freeing up in-patient beds in other acute centres for more complex care”.
“ However I know there are strong views in Galway and Cork about wanting a mixture of in-patient and daycare beds.”
He said no decisions had been taken on this as of yet.
Mr Donnelly also said his department would be shortly inviting medical representatives’ organisations to talks on the planned introduction of a new Sláintecare contract for hospital consultants. He said this type of contract which allowed exclusively for public work in public hospitals would be the only one available for doctors seeking to work in the State system.
However, he indicated that as part of the talks he wanted to look at issues such as funding for research and clinical trials.