HSE chiefs face grilling over illegal advice on abortions
HSE chiefs are to be quizzed by a Dail committee about revelations that staff at some state-funded crisis pregnancy services gave illegal and medically dangerous advice to women during one-to-one counselling sessions.
And Junior Minister for European Affairs Lucinda Creighton described the allegations - revealed in the Irish Independent on Saturday - as "extremely serious" and said they "must be investigated by all of the appropriate authorities".
Fine Gael TD Jerry Buttimer, Chairman of the Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children, said he would be contacting the HSE as a matter of urgency to "seek clarification on the nature, independence and partiality of their inquiry".
"I will be expecting the HSE to treat this matter with the utmost importance and will be contacting them first thing Tuesday morning to seek further information about their investigation."
His concerns were echoed by several other members of the Health Committee including deputies Regina Doherty (FG ), Denis Naughten (Ind), Mary Mitchell O'Connor (FG), Robert Troy (FF), Mattie McGrath (Ind) and Senator John Crown (Ind).
At a number of Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA) clinics, women were told to lie to doctors about having had an abortion, a course of action which could endanger their lives, according to the Master of the Rotunda Hospital, Professor Sam Coulter Smith.
He said he was aware of cases where women had died because doctors were kept in the dark about their abortions.
During a termination, perforation of the womb can occur which can remain undetected but can cause serious problems in subsequent pregnancies.
In other instances, some counsellors told women how to smuggle an abortion pill into the State through Northern Ireland, and take it on their own. This illegal drug, which induces a miscarriage, should only be taken under strict medical supervision as it can cause severe bleeding and infection.
The disturbing findings came to light during an undercover investigation into crisis pregnancy services carried out by a team of women, some from the pro-life movement. They secretly recorded counsellors at 11 locations around the country over a period of several months.
The HSE, which was given the contents of the investigation by the Irish Independent, has set up an internal review into the matter.
However, pressure is mounting on the organisation to ensure this inquiry is carried out quickly and transparently.
East Meath TD Regina Doherty said she believed the HSE may not be the most appropriate body to carry out the investigation.
"We have a scenario here where people who are state-funded are actively encouraging women to break the law and putting their lives at risk by giving them dangerous advice. That is absolutely outrageous and it has to stop.
"My gut feeling is that the HSE may not be the people best placed to carry out this investigation because potentially they could be investigating themselves. An independent body needs to be established to investigate this and that needs to happen sooner rather than later."
Independent TD for Roscommon-South Leitrim, Denis Naughten said: "Any investigation not only needs to be independent, but needs to be seen to be independent. That's crucially important. Not only have we allegations of the law being broken, we have serious claims of women being given very misleading information that could put their lives at risk.
"I cannot understand how something like this could be going on or be allowed to go on. The whole reason that these provisions were made in legislation and through funding was so women could have clear, non-directive and accurate information and that clearly isn't happening.
"This is all being funded by the tax-payer and it has to be above board. We have publically funded bodies acting in breach of the law and putting women's lives in danger. It simply cannot be tolerated."
Consultant Oncologist Professor John Crown said: "It is really irresponsible and dangerous for a healthcare professional to advise somebody to give a misleading medical history to their doctor. I would be very supportive of calls for a health committee inquiry into this matter.'
Paul Connors, National Director of Communications for the HSE, said: "The HSE is the funding agency for thousands of organisations in this country on behalf of the Government - it is wholly appropriate that any review to take place in any of those organisations should be conducted by the HSE in the first instance - which at all times would be done in an impartial and objective manner."
Mr Connors declined to comment about whether the counsellors facing the allegations are still in their positions.