Wednesday 12 December 2018

Thousands won't have access to scan of baby

Discussions: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Health Minister Simon Harris Photo: Damien Eagers
Discussions: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Health Minister Simon Harris Photo: Damien Eagers
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

Thousands of expectant mothers will still be without routine access to a 20-week pregnancy scan to tell them if their baby had a fatal foetal abnormality as the Government prepares to implement abortion legislation.

The legislation liberalising abortion may be in place next month and will include a provision to allow termination for a pregnant woman who is told her unborn baby has a diagnosed fatal foetal abnormality and will not survive.

But five maternity hospitals still do not provide a routine scan around 20 weeks into the pregnancy to diagnose an anomaly.

It will be next year before all 60,000 women who give birth annually will have full access.

A targeted investment to recruit ultrasonographers, who are trained in using ultrasound machines, in the 2018 Budget has now allowed 14 of the 19 maternity units and hospitals to offer a routine anomaly scan.

This compares to just seven of the 19 providing the routine scan in 2017.

It is understood that recruitment and training for the remaining five hospitals is under way.

But they will not be in place for a large part of 2019 when expectant mothers who have access to the scan can choose a termination in Ireland if they wish.

It is among the issues raised by maternity hospitals in advance of the introduction of the wider access to abortion.

The 20-week scan also allows for the discovery of structural heart abnormalities in the unborn.

If a major structural cardiac abnormality is identified before birth, the management and subsequent outcome for many of these babies is improved.

In Ireland about 50pc of major congenital heart disease is diagnosed before birth but this varies hugely throughout the country.

Separately, GPs who agree to provide medical abortions from next month have made it clear they need access to ultrasound scans for some women seeking a termination in order to date the pregnancy.

The GPs will provide medical abortion up to nine weeks.

A woman who is between nine and 12 weeks pregnant will need to be referred to a maternity hospital for the procedure.

A tender for access to private companies providing scans has now been issued by the HSE to cater for this need.

The HSE is providing resources to the Irish College of General Practitioners and the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists to invite the World Health Organisation to provide one week of training sessions on abortion sessions in Dublin, Cork, Galway and Limerick.

Educational sessions will start next week for staff who will be providing a termination of pregnancy service from January, at GP and hospital level.

A plan is also being finalised for the 24/7 helpline which will operate. It will direct women to GPs participating in the service, give advice, line counselling and also tell a woman where she can go for face-to-face advice.

The Dáil report stage of the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Bill resumes this week before going to the Seanad.

Irish Independent

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