Abortion group has met only five times since it was set up
THE group charged with drawing up guidelines for doctors and other staff operating new abortion legislation has met just five times since it was set up in September.
The 12-member group, which mainly comprises doctors, is now behind schedule in finalising the guidance to back up the implementation of the protection of life during pregnancy law allowing for limited abortion.
This guidance would aid GPs, obstetricians and psychiatrists when they are referring and assessing a woman before carrying out an abortion.
A spokesman for the Department of Health insisted the group had been working assiduously on the preparation of the document, "which is at an advanced stage".
He said another meeting was scheduled for next week and it was expected that the document would be signed off "early this year".
The spokesman said the HSE had a list of doctors who had volunteered to take part in review panels to review the cases of women who are initially turned down for an abortion.
He declined to say how many doctors had volunteered or to name them.
"Participants on the HSE panels are doing so on a confidential basis," he said.
The legislation allows for doctors to intervene where there is a real and substantial risk to the life of a pregnant women, including the threat of suicide.
The legislation says two doctors must confirm a physical risk to the woman, although in medical emergencies one doctor can decide. In the case where a woman seeks an abortion on the grounds of a suicide risk, three doctors -- an obstetrician and two psychiatrists -- must agree to the procedure.
If the abortion request is turned down, the woman can appeal to another panel and the HSE must have a list of doctors who have volunteered to take part in one of these reviews.
The independent chair of the committee is HSE public health specialist Dr Declan Bedford.
The nominee from the Institute of Obstetrician and Gynaecologist is Dr Geraldine Gaffney, an obstetrician in University Hospital Galway where Savita Halappanavar died almost a year ago.
Others include two perinatal psychiatrists Dr Joanne Fenton of the Coombe Hospital and Dr Anthony McCarthy of the National Maternity Hospital in Holles Street.
Other members of the 12-person committee includes GPs, midwives, as well as representatives of the HSE and the Department of Health.
It held its first meeting at the end of September.
The Irish College of General Practitioners (ICGP) said it was concerned at the enactment of the legislation without guidance.
Dr Miriam Daly, programme director of the ICGP Women's Health Programme said: "Our guidance to our general practitioner members is to follow the usual procedure when a patient presents with a life-threatening condition and to refer to the appropriate specialist.
"The present situation, where there are significant issues around referral to specialists that have not been clarified, is clearly unsatisfactory."