The St Vincent’s Healthcare Group is to appear before the Oireachtas Health Committee on Monday to discuss the proposed new National Maternity Hospital plan.
The hearing will take place before the issue goes before Cabinet on Tuesday.
Today the St Vincent’s Healthcare Group wrote to Minister for the Arts, Catherine Martin, to give reassurance that abortion services will be provided at the new hospital on the St Vincent’s campus.
The Green Party deputy leader said she would now give her support to the plans for the re-located National Maternity Hospital when the Cabinet meets.
In a statement today, Minister Martin said a decision to approve the National Maternity Hospital’s move to St Vincent’s Hospital was delayed for two weeks in order to give more time for ministers, medical experts and the public to reflect on the proposals and address genuine concerns.
She said that Minister Donnelly and other witnesses appeared before the Oireachtas Health Committee and “gave clarity” about concerns regarding “the clinical independence” of procedures at the new hospital.
She said: “During this necessary extended two-week period of time, I sought answers and assurances in correspondence from my Cabinet colleague, the NMH, the HSE as well as St Vincent’s Healthcare Group.
“These centered on a non-exhaustive list outlining what procedures will be available at the NMH, the use of the term ‘clinically appropriate’ for services agreed by the parties involved, current and future funding for important services for women as well as safeguards that will protect the State’s significant investment in the new hospital.”
She added: “I am satisfied that following assurances received (including written assurances I received containing required additional clarifications, including from the St Vincent’s Healthcare Group) that this has resulted in greater transparency around this project. I now believe that the safeguards and protections are there to protect services for women.”
Meanwhile, Sinn Féin is to bring forward a motion in the Dáil next week to compel the Government to ensure the National Maternity Hospital is a public hospital on public land.
Sinn Féin Health Spokesperson David Cullinane said: “The motion also commits the hospital to ensure all necessary safeguards are adopted to ensure the integrity and the highest quality of care on the site.
“The motion sets out that this must include the full provision of the range of legally available sexual and reproductive health services.”
He added: “The National Maternity Hospital is a vital project which should provide much-needed improvements to women’s healthcare. It needs to be built and operational as soon as possible, but expedience cannot be used to dilute rights in any way.
“The full range of legal permissible services, from fertility treatments to termination of pregnancy, whether medical or surgical, must be available in the hospital to any qualifying patient.
“Serious questions are yet to be answered and the minister cannot expect a leap of faith from the women of Ireland. In recent weeks, the government has failed to provide adequate reassurance on these important issues. It isn’t good enough.”
Term ‘clinically appropriate’
Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly is to write to the Oireachtas Health Committee to address issues raised about the term “clinically appropriate” in the constitution of the new National Maternity Hospital.
The constitution states the hospital will be able to carry out healthcare procedures which are legal and “clinically appropriate”. But some politicians are concerned that it could be interpreted in a way that prevents women from receiving procedures they have requested such as abortions.
Yesterday, some Government TDs raised issues about the wording of the constitution.
Neasa Hourigan of the Green Party told the RTÉ News Your Politics podcast that she hoped the Cabinet would move its position as there were “valid concerns” that were “easily addressed”.
When asked if she might move to the independent benches if the Government proceeds to agree to the plan, she said: “It puts me in a very difficult position.”
Another Government TD Neale Richmond of Fine Gael also raised issues with the phrase in the Dáil.
The Taoiseach said the phrase “clinically appropriate and legally permissible” is very clear and anything that is legal in this country will be and has to be provided at the new hospital.
“Anything that is legal in this country, will be provided and has to be provided at the new hospital and is currently provided at Holles Street,” he said.
It follows reports that work is under way on a legal codicil which would clarify the statement that procedures in the hospital where clinically appropriate and legally permissible.
Meanwhile, the Master of the National Maternity Hospital has said that he can understand why women would have a mistrust in politicians, religious orders and health services.
During a press conference at the NMH this morning, Dr Shane Higgins reiterated his calls for the new maternity hospital at Elm Park to go ahead.
He said that there would be no religious ethos at the new facility, adding that the current hospital at Holles Street is not influenced by the church.
Dr Higgins told journalists that he could understand why there was a lack of trust, as women have been badly let down in the past. However, he insisted that all clinical services provided for under law would continue to be provided at the St. Vincent’s campus.
The Master of the National Maternity Hospital said that NMH would be open to removing or further defining the phrase “clinically appropriate” on legal documents.
Dr Higgins said that there were three stakeholders involved in the project, but on behalf of NMH he would be open to this.
Additional reporting Tommy Meskill