Republic of Ireland news

Group of doctors have 'lost faith' in health minister Simon Harris over abortion

Doctors Valerie Morris, Kirsten Fuller, Andrew O'Regan, Rachel Duignan, Aisling Bastible and Ronan Cleary hold press conference outside Leinster House in Dublin to raise concerns about the Irish government's plans for a GP-led abortion service Picture by Niall Carson/PA

A group of doctors have said they have "lost faith" in the Republic's health minister Simon Harris, saying their concerns are not being listened to over abortion.

Some 640 general practitioners have signed a petition raising concerns over the government's plan to press ahead with a GP-led abortion service in Ireland.

The group claims that the minister "never took the time" to consult GPs and broke the news through the media.

Dublin-based Dr Aisling Bastible said: "Instead of reaching out to the hundreds of GPs, Minister Harris has adopted an utterly dismissive tone from the get-go."

The 640 signatories represent a variety of views on the issue, including concerns around training, funding, retention within the GP service and conscientious objection.

The seven GPs who presented the petition in Dublin yesterday stated that they personally would not be willing to perform abortions.

The group said the Irish Council of General Practitioners (ICGP), which is involved in the committees debating the legislation, is not advocating for conscientious objection.

Dr Andrew O Regan, who was part of the pro-life The Medical Alliance for the Eighth group during Ireland's abortion referendum, said that a GP-led abortion service is an outlier and uncommon in terms of how abortions are performed, only two European countries adhere to this model, and he did not know why it was the preference of the government.

"No matter what your stance on abortion, you would surely expect the minister to consult with GPs on the ground before legislating," he said.

"General practice is at maximum capacity, we have a big problem trying to recruit GPs and now the government are saying, 'We want you to do this as well', it's just not on."

The doctors suggested a number of options, including the New Zealand model, which is a 24-hour helpline which would direct women to the appropriate clinic.

The group will now be pushing for a meeting with opposition leader Micheal Martin after Mr Harris "failed to respond to repeated requests" to discuss conscientious objection.

"I think it's time for the taoiseach to step in and also time that we met the leader of the opposition," Dr O'Regan said.

"The referendum was about choice, what about our choice?

"There's plenty of doctors willing to do this, we don't want to block those doctors but don't force us to be part of it."

The Republic's referendum on repealing the eighth amendment of the constitution, which outlawed abortion, was passed in May 2018.

An ICGP spokeswoman said: "The ICGP sought the views of all its members via an extensive online consultation process during August and September with regard to the development of clinical guidelines for the provision of termination of pregnancy services.

"The ICGP will hold an EGM of its members on the provision of termination of pregnancy services on December 2 in Dublin."

The Department of Health has been contacted for comment.

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