No start date for terminations at Cavan Hospital

The Department of Health cannot provide a start date for when termination of pregnancy services will be provided at Cavan General Hospital only to confirm that “provision” will begin in the New Year.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly recently announced that termination of pregnancy services would commence in five additional maternity hospital sites, including Cavan General.

The service became available from Monday, December 4, at Kilkenny, Portiuncula, Letterkenny, Wexford and Portlaoise, meaning that terminations are available at 17 out of 19 maternity units in the Republic.

Cavan and South Tipperary General Hospital in Clonmel are the only two maternity hospitals in the country where termination of pregnancy services are still not available.

Earlier this year Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told the Dáil that a programme was being put in place to ensure all 19 hospital sites provide such services by early 2024.

At the time there were only 11 of the country’s 19 maternity hospitals providing surgical terminations, which he claimed was “not good enough”.

Previously it was reported that consultants at Cavan General had written to the then Minister for Health stating an objection to their involvement in providing terminations at the local hospital.

According to correspondence, seen by the Celt, Cavan General was scheduled to provide full abortion services by the third quarter of 2019, but this was pushed back because the hospital simply did not have the required “staffing to provide the service”.

A recruitment process to appoint medical practitioners to carry out terminations at Cavan General ended with a shortlisting of candidates in December 2022, and interviews in January 2023.

The Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Act was signed into law in September 2018, enabling greater access to termination of pregnancy services from January 1, 2019. Prior to this, the termination of pregnancy could only be performed if a risk to life of the mother could be established.

Operational recommendations in an independent review of abortion services across Ireland found an uneven geographic spread of hospitals providing termination services. Along with 11 hospitals, there are 422 community service providers.

A total of 77 terminations occurred where the address of the woman was given as Cavan in 2019; 107 in 2020; 70 in 2021.

Last year (2022) saw the highest number (116) of women with addresses in Cavan terminate pregnancies in any given year since the eighth amendment was repealed in 2018.

Termination of Pregnancy services are provided, free of charge, by the HSE, through GPs or family planning services.

There are three GPs in Cavan signed up to provide termination of pregnancy services - consultation and giving what’s known as the abortion pill.

In neighbouring Monaghan, where there are two, the figures there were 36 terminations in 2019; 54 in 2020; and 46 in 2021.

In 2022 a total of 9,042 abortions were performed nationwide; 8,042 were described as occurring in early pregnancy, 88 were reportedly in a condition likely to lead to the death of a foetus, four were a risk to life or health in an emergency and 22 were a risk to life or health.

The national number was almost double the level of abortions in 2021 when 4,577 were recorded. Meanwhile, a further 860 women received termination of pregnancy services abroad.

In a statement to the Celt, a spokesperson for the Department of Health said that “total number of maternity hospitals providing early (under 12 weeks) termination of pregnancy services” is now 17.

“The remaining two hospitals, Cavan and Clonmel, will begin service provision in 2024.”

They added: “We don’t have any further information beyond that it’ll be some time next year.”

The RCSI Group, which takes in Cavan General, were also contacted for comment.

A group opposing the provision of terminations at Cavan General has written to management and staff offering legal advice if they act against participation on grounds of contentious objection.