Monday 10 December 2018

Up to 50 GPs walk out of meeting over concerns about new abortion legislation

Some of the conscientious objectors who walked out of a meeting of members of the Irish College of General Practitioners prompted by concerns raised by the introduction of abortion Photo: Tony Gavin
Some of the conscientious objectors who walked out of a meeting of members of the Irish College of General Practitioners prompted by concerns raised by the introduction of abortion Photo: Tony Gavin
Dr Andrew O’Regan, Dr Kirsten Fuller and Dr Niall McGuire were some of the conscientious objecters who walked out of a meeting of members of the Irish College of General Practitioners Photo: Tony Gavin
Dr Tony Cox, Medical Director, ICGP at an Extraodinary General meeting of members Photo: Tony Gavin

Eilish O’Regan

A row has broken out between GPs over the Government’s proposed abortion law.

Up to 50 GPs walked out of a meeting of family doctors in Dublin this afternoon to discuss concerns about how the new abortion service will operate on the ground.

The doctors left the meeting of the Irish College of General Practitioners (ICGP), the professional and training body for doctors, which was convened to discuss the abortion service, saying their voices were not heard.

Following the walk out, the group said “several hundred GPs have totally lost confidence in the ICGP board” and that “a serious crisis now exists that the Government cannot ignore regarding the rollout of GP-led abortion services.”

Dr Andrew O’Regan, Dr Kirsten Fuller and Dr Niall McGuire were some of the conscientious objecters who walked out of a meeting of members of the Irish College of General Practitioners Photo: Tony Gavin
Dr Andrew O’Regan, Dr Kirsten Fuller and Dr Niall McGuire were some of the conscientious objecters who walked out of a meeting of members of the Irish College of General Practitioners Photo: Tony Gavin

Spokesperson for the group, Dr Kirsten Fuller said: “Today was a test for whether the ICGP board regard rank and file GPs as colleagues who ought to be consulted and included in decision making or see them as a problem that must be managed. We definitely got our answer to that question at today’s meeting.

Dr Fuller said that “ordinary GPs in their hundreds have done everything humanly possible in the past five months to get the ICGP board to listen to our concerns but we have been stonewalled every step of the way.

“A serious crisis now exists that the Government cannot ignore regarding the rollout of GP-led abortion services.

“Hundreds of GPs on the ground do not believe general practice is the appropriate setting in which to deliver abortion services because of lack of capacity in an already overstretched environment, lack of training and availability of ultrasound, and delivering on genuine freedom of conscience protections for doctors who don’t want to be involved in overseeing abortions taking place.

“Under the new law, doctors will be forced to facilitate abortions taking place. That’s entirely different to the present situation and Simon Harris knows it.

“The only way to resolve the current impasse is for the Government and the ICGP board to stop pretending there isn’t a crisis and start engaging with GPs in a respectful and open way.”

“The first GPs heard that abortion services would be GP-led was when Simon Harris announced it on radio.

“From that day to this, GPs have never been consulted on the matter but from January 1, Minister Harris will impose abortion services on General Practice.

“GPs will face the full rigours of the law from the New Year if they conscientiously object to being involved in abortions.”

The meeting went ahead with a large gathering of GPs who travelled from around the country.

In a statement following the meeting, the ICGP said: ”The College was disappointed at the decision of a number of GPs to attend the meeting and stage a walk-out within 30 minutes, having objected to the official procedure of the meeting.

“However, over 250 members stayed for a meaningful debate on the provision of termination of pregnancy services by GPs. There were a range of views heard from the floor and questions were raised and answered by members of the board of the College.”

Dr Tony Cox, medical director of the ICGP, added: “The College’s remit is to provide training and education for all GPs, and for those GPs who wish to offer this service.

“We are aware of the concerns of those with a conscientious objection to providing termination of pregnancy services, and we have successfully advocated for an 'opt-in' service and for a 24-hour helpline as the first point of information for those who seek the service.”

“We are sorry that those who walked out didn’t stay to listen, as there was a meaningful discussion of all the issues on the agenda.”

Earlier, Health Ministers Simon Harris said: "Doctors have a right to conscientious objection but women also have a right to healthcare. The law on abortion is changing; the law on conscientious objection is not changing.

“If you are saying to me that a woman who goes to her GP in crisis; looking for help and looking for a service that is legally available in our country and that that woman should be shown the door or given the cold shoulder that is not conscientious objection."

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