Thursday, 12 May 2022
National Maternity Hospital: Statements
Mary Butler (Waterford, Fianna Fail)
I am grateful to have an opportunity to contribute to today’s discussion on what is a very important matter. I have listened intently to the debate, the language, the concerns and the pros and cons. I have been in the House for the last two weeks listening to every debate I can and, between meetings, I watched the proceedings of the Oireachtas committee yesterday. I thank the Minister, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, for his speech on the issue, which I believe sets out clearly the reasons for, and the benefits of, the chosen course of action.
What do we all agree on? We all agree that the clinicians in the National Maternity Hospital provide excellent care to women and infants. They have been leaders in modernising women's healthcare. A new modern hospital building is needed urgently for the National Maternity Hospital. The new hospital should be built beside a major adult hospital to ensure women have access to the widest possible range of healthcare. The new hospital must be fully clinically independent and there must be no religious influence now or into the future. The new hospital must provide all services and procedures that are legally permissible. The State's investment must be protected. The Government's plans for the new hospital meet all these goals. The new national maternity hospital will be clinically, operationally and financially fully independent. All procedures that are currently carried out in the National Maternity Hospital in Holles Street will be provided in the new national maternity hospital. This includes terminations, tubal ligations and gender-affirming procedures. The new hospital will provide all maternity, gynaecology, obstetric and neonatal services that are legally permissible. My understanding from what I have listened to is that there is agreement there.
However, the most important and relevant fact in this debate is how vital this development is to bring Irish maternity care into the 21st century and beyond. It is recognised as a piece of critical infrastructure for the continued development of maternity and women’s health services, and it will help to cement the momentum and achievements we have seen in women’s healthcare over the last few years. We are building a once-in-a generation, world-class national maternity hospital, ensuring world-class facilities for women, girls and babies for generations to come. We are already aware of the importance and benefits of co-locating maternity services with adult services. The National Maternity Hospital and St. Vincent's Hospital have worked together for decades, and approximately 40% of consultant staff at the National Maternity Hospital are employed by, and work between, the two hospitals, creating the ideal platform to achieve the clinical ideals of co-location.
Both yesterday at the meeting of the Joint Committee on Health and again here today, the Minister has comprehensively addressed the concerns raised. He has given very clear explanations on the legal agreement and the significant work that has been done to ensure the full range of services will be available.
The referendum in 2018 was very clear. People in Ireland voted overwhelmingly for abortion to be legal. Abortion is permitted in Ireland during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, and later in cases where the pregnant woman's life or health is at risk or in cases of fatal foetal abnormality. I am just stating the facts. The figures show that approximately 21,000 abortions have taken place over the last three years since the legislation changed. The facts speak for themselves. Abortions happen every day of the week, every week of the month and every month of the year. My question is: why are there concerns that all services permissible under law will not be carried out in the new national maternity hospital? They are already happening in the current, not-fit-for-purpose hospital. It is not fit for purpose from a condition and infrastructure point of view, not in respect of the staff and the care. The religious orders have left the scene. They no longer provide healthcare. They have not interfered in the last three years when 21,000 abortions were recorded. This is fact; this is reality. It is muddying the waters.
All procedures that are currently provided in the National Maternity Hospital under Irish law will be provided in Elm Park. I will state again that they include termination, provision of contraception services, tubal ligation, fertility services and gender-reassigning procedures. It cannot be clearer. Clinical services will not be provided according to any religious ethos, but according to the best national and international clinical practice. All lawfully permissible services that should be provided in a maternity hospital will be available here.
Over the last few days the very clinicians who provide such care have come out in strong support of the project. I do not believe any Member of the Dáil or the Seanad, apart from the Tánaiste, has worked in Holles Street, although I am open to correction on that. We have to believe the clinicians. Clinicians at the National Maternity Hospital have spoken passionately about the project and have urged us to press ahead. What they clearly recognise is that there is now a range of legal stipulations to guarantee that all procedures will take place. These are the clinicians who annually see several hundred pregnant women transferred to St. Vincent's Hospital as inpatients or outpatients for treatment that is not available in Holles Street.
These are the clinicians who every year see a number of critically ill women transferred to receive intensive care that is not available onsite at Holles Street. The physical transfer of such high-risk clinical cases between two separate sites is not in keeping with best practice, but Members should not take my word for it, they should please read the correspondence and listen to the likes of Dr. Rhona Mahony, Professor Mary Higgins and many others. They, along with many clinicians across maternity services, have expressed their confidence in the agreements that have been brokered between the relevant parties. It is my belief that their confidence is well founded.
The Minister, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, has made himself available to answer questions. He has made the necessary documentation available for openness and transparency. We have debated for far too long. While we debate here in the Dáil, it is business as usual in Holles Street where there is a 14-bed Nightingale ward, and where women are queuing to go to the bathroom.