Friday 18 October 2019

Delay in abortion guidelines not our fault, say medical professionals

Prof Robert F Harrison
Prof Robert F Harrison

Michael Brennan Deputy Political Editor

Obstetricians have insisted they are not responsible for a delay in producing clinical guidelines for the new abortion legislation.

The guidelines for how doctors should implement the law are not in place even though it came into force yesterday.

Health Minister James Reilly has insisted that the one outstanding issue of clinical guidelines "are a matter for clinicians and totally out of our control".

And he said the clinical guidelines for obstetricians would be coming from the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.

But the institute's chairman, Professor Robert Harrison, said he wanted to set the record straight.

He pointed out that the guidelines were being devised by a working group set up by Dr Reilly's own department.

"The guidelines are coming from the Department of Health, not directly from the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists," he said.

It is understood that the working group's clinical guidelines for doctors on how to implement the abortion law have been delayed by the range of different medical professionals involved.

It has to take account of the views of obstetricians, GPs and psychiatrists. The 12-member group contains 10 representatives of the medical professions, one representative from the Department of Health and one from the HSE corporate section.

It is chaired independently by Dr Declan Bedford, a specialist in public health medicine.

The group met for the first time on September 24, 2013.


Prof Harrison said that his institute saw the need to make sure that the clinical guidelines for the abortion legislation were drawn up correctly.

"I don't think there's any controversy at all. This is a very tricky thing. I think they are wise to take their time and get it right," he said.

In a recent interview with the Irish Independent, Dr Reilly said that the guidelines would be in place "very early in the new year". But he said that abortions could be carried out without them. "You can. Absolutely. Totally. The most important thing you need is the panel of experts to review an appeal case," he said.

Under the legislation, a panel of doctors will have to give the go-ahead for an abortion where they believe there is a real and substantial risk to the life of a mother, including threat of suicide.

Doctors have been signed up to these panels, as well as the appeal panels for women who believe they have been wrongly refused permission for an abortion.

A spokesman for Dr Reilly said the working group was set up to prepare high-level inter-professional guidance to implement the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act.

"There is no legal requirement that guidance be developed for the Act to commence," he said.

The abortion law was hugely controversial, with five Fine Gael TDs and two senators losing the party whip for refusing to vote in favour of it.

About 25 hospitals in the State will be authorised to carry out abortions in these circumstances under the provisions of the Act.

The hospitals will have to provide the registration number of the doctor who carried out the abortion to Dr Reilly and to the Medical Council, as well as the registration number of the doctor who approved the abortion.

There will be an annual report published on the number of abortions carried out.

Irish Independent

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