Saturday 20 July 2019

Availability of abortion services in County Sligo is unknown

Paul Deering

The extent to which abortion services are available in Sligo are still unclear a week after services became available countrywide.

It is being reported that no GPs have signed up for the service yet in county Sligo while the HSE states it will not reveal the numbers who are expected to sign up.

Services available at Sligo University Hospital has also not been divulged by the HSE in response to queries from The Sligo Champion.

No abortions are being provided in Sligo, Leitrim, Carlow and Offaly because not a single GP in the four counties has signed up to the new service.

It is being reported that at the end of the first week since abortion became legal, the number of GPs who have agreed to perform medical abortions has risen to 200, from 187 on Wednesday last.

Only 112 of these are opting to take referrals from the HSE's MyOptions helpline, which is the main referral pathway for women seeking a termination. The rest will deal only with cases from their existing patient lists.

There are about 3,500 active GPs in the Republic. Already, protests have taken place by anti-abortion campaigners outside a GP surgery in Galway and targeting like this may be putting some doctors off from signing up.

Under the new service, GPs will provide medical abortions using the abortion pill to women up to nine weeks, while terminations between nine and 12 weeks are performed in hospitals.

It is understood that the State is paying GPs a fee of €450 to administer the abortion pill,

A spokeswoman for Minister for Health Simon Harris said his understanding was that nine out of 19 maternity hospitals hospitals were currently in a position to provide the service.

Sligo Abortion Rights Campaign has welcomed what it says is a new dawn for reproductive rights in Ireland and is expecting the service to come on stream in the near future.

"We have worked hard over many years for free, safe, legal abortion services for those living in County Sligo who may need this essential service, as they have done in the past.

"We also wish to say goodbye and good riddance to the distrust, stigmatisation and control over women's' bodies that has marred our history for so long.

"Although the people of County Sligo voted overwhelmingly by 61% to repeal the Eighth Amendment, at present the county is one of only two counties in the country where no General Practitioners have opted-in to the service.

"Given the very narrow timeframe and despite the considerable behind-the-scenes work that has taken place within the healthcare services, further training and additional supports to GPs are necessary to make full reproductive healthcare a reality right across the country."

Sligo ARC member Niamh O'Connor said: "We know that many GPs in the county support access to abortion services and so it is only a matter of time before a community provider in County Sligo is in place.

"It's early days yet and we anticipate the removal of barriers to give equal access to healthcare for women, girls and pregnant people in County Sligo, as elsewhere."

The Abortion Rights Campaign will continue to work for free, safe, legal and local abortion care for anyone who chooses it; free from stigma, harassment and judgement, said Ms O'Connor.

The Health Service Executive says details of where women can get abortion care are provided directly to people who need it, through the new My Options helpline on 1800 828 010 and will not be made public.

There is also a new website,, and the 24/7 helpline will be staffed by counsellors and nurses.

The MyOptions helpline set up by the Health Service Executive is the main referral path for women seeking a termination.

Speaking last Friday, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said it was not right to protest outside hospitals or places where people were accessing medical services and “particularly for something like abortion is a very private, very personal thing”.

He said, “while I respect people who are pro-life, who oppose abortion, I don’t think anyone should be impeded when they’re trying to access a medical service . . . There are other ways to protest.”

It will be some weeks before the level of demand for the service becomes known and in particular for areas outside of Dublin.


Doctor details will not be revealed

The HSE, in a statement to The Sligo Champion did not reveal the number of GP's in the county who are providing abortion services.

The statement reads: "GPs and family planning services who have signed up to provide the service are now beginning to provide care to patients who want to have an abortion. A lot of work has been done and is ongoing to set up services to care for women, and the HSE will provide information to women and to healthcare professionals about where and how services are available as they come on stream.

"Working to develop the service over recent months, we agreed an approach with GPs whereby details of GPs taking part in providing abortion care will not be published, but details are provided directly to people who need it, through our new My Options helpline. We are satisfied that there is already a good geographic spread of GPs taking part, enough to meet the needs of people who may need to access the service. Currently, 179 GPs have signed the contract and each day more GPs are signing up, as the service evolves."

Sligo Champion