Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Wednesday, 27 November 2019

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health

Working Group on Access to Contraception: Discussion

Photo of Stephen DonnellyStephen Donnelly (Wicklow, Fianna Fail)
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My following comment is not directed at Mr. Conlon, as he is not to blame, but what he has told us is very disappointing. Many committee members support the idea that if free abortion services are going to be provided, contraception must be provided free. It would be a perverse situation whereby women had to pay for contraception but not abortion in the case of a fatal foetal abnormality, crisis pregnancy or whatever. Introducing abortion services was not a simple thing to do, yet it was done but we are looking at several years after that before movements on contraception can be made. I am not a doctor but I imagine that steps such as training for GPs or reducing the cost of LARC, or rolling out education programmes for younger people and vulnerable groups are simpler to do than introducing abortion throughout the country.

My criticism is not aimed at anybody here but I am disappointed that people in will have to wait several years for action on this matter. I thank Mr. Conlon for the invite for us to give our views and input. My view and input is that things needs to start happening now. The service plan has not been signed off. I must confess that when I read Dr. Short's opening statement last night I was surprised at her call for further GP training. I would have thought that every GP understood contraception. Dr. Short is an expert who represents the ICGP. If what she is telling us is that GPs need more training, then let us give them more training. That is certainly not expensive to provide. Better intervention in schools, and better intervention with some vulnerable members of the population such as immigrant women, asylum seekers and various other groups, could be concocted and rolled out in a matter of weeks.

It is a small amount in the context of an €18 billion budget. We are all trying to empower women, and men, and especially younger women and women who are at higher risk. That kind of intervention can happen pretty quickly and at a low cost. We should get this up and running in the first quarter of next year. Let us get that into the service plan.

Dr. Short gave figures ranging between €80 million to €100 million, which will take most people by surprise. That is a chunk of cash. In the context of women's reproductive health, the Rotunda Hospital is screaming for investment just to make the hospital safe while they wait for God knows how long for a move out to the Connolly Hospital campus. The Rotunda needs some €20 million to make a significant difference in what is one of Europe's busiest maternity hospitals. They cannot get that, so €80 million to €100 million is a chunk of change. I bet the GPs could be trained up, education programmes could be run and targeted interventions could be used for a small amount. The report, and the opening statements, referred to the GMS scheme for medical cards, including some supports. It is by no means a perfect way, but it is one way of targeting supports to lower income people, and it is the entire point of the medical card scheme. It would be possible to identify the additional changes to that, or whatever bits are not currently included.