Patient advocate resigns after most of Ireland’s ring-fenced maternity care funds spent on abortion

Ireland’s Health and Security Executive has diverted money ‘ring-fenced’ for maternity care to pay for abortions, prompting a patient advocate to resign.

Launched by Mr Varadkar when he was Minister for Health, in 2016, the Government’s 10-year National Maternity Plan promised €8 million a year would be spent on developing quality, safe, consistent and well-resourced care in Ireland’s 19 maternity units.

However, the Irish Times reports that only a small fraction of the funds set aside went towards maternal care after the new Minister for Health, Simon Harris, used most of the fund to pay for Ireland’s new abortion regime.

The move prompted one of the two patient advocates on the board of the country’s Health Service Executive to resign.

Mark Molloy told the Irish Times he resigned because the HSE could only fund 12% of the €8 million a year promised for the National Maternity Strategy.

Mark’s son was one of a number of babies who died unnecessarily as a result of failings at Portlaoise hospital. Since then, the quantity surveyor has campaigned for greater accountability and patient representation in the health service.

Simon Harris and HSE chairman Ciarán Devane both tried to persuade Mark to stay on the board, but he stuck with his convictions and his decision to resign.

The lack of funding for maternal health care can have deadly consequences.

Last year, Marie Downey, who had just given birth to her baby son Darragh, died after suffering a severe epileptic seizure in Cork University Maternity hospital. Baby Darragh, who also died after being trapped on the floor when his mother fell, was buried in her arms. It was revealed just three nurses were on duty on the ward that night, caring for 31 patients.

Prior to that tragedy, another mother, Karen McEvoy died of sepsis on Christmas Day after giving birth to a baby girl in the Coombe maternity hospital.

Despite these failings of the HSE, Simon Harris, has taken money away from the strategy group tasked with ensuring women do not die around pregnancy and childbirth – in order to fund abortion.

A spokesperson for Right To Life UK, Catherine Robinson said:

“Now that abortion is legal, it appears the safety of women who are pregnant or have just given birth is no longer the priority of Ireland’s Minister for Health or the country’s Health Service Executive.

“There’s a tragic irony in the Government’s decision to take money away from good maternal care and giving it abortion. This has potentially risked the lives of many women and the extra funding for abortion has definitely ended the lives of babies.”

Charity launches legal action after investigation finds NHS fees may force pregnant migrants into unwanted abortions

A UK charity has launched a legal challenge against the policy of charging vulnerable migrant women £7,000 or more to access NHS maternity care as it could force many of them into unwanted abortions and deter them from essential medical support.

Maternity care is an “immediately necessary service” in the UK, which means it must never be refused or delayed regardless of a patient’s immigration status or ability to pay. 

But Maternity Action says destitute migrant women who struggle to afford food and accommodation are receiving bills of £7,000 or more. 

The charity’s 2018 report into the impact of NHS maternity care charges revealed that out of sixteen women interviewed three would have had an abortion had they known about the charges earlier into their pregnancies.

One such woman was Leah, who was abandoned by her partner when she became pregnant. She had nowhere to live and no money. When faced with NHS costs the pregnant mother said, “I feel lost right now… Then, with the charging [I feel] bad… If I hadn’t been 33 weeks [pregnant] I could have aborted it.”

Maternity Action’s research also found that many women are avoiding essential medical care in an attempt to save money and that charges were inducing very high levels of anxiety and fear into women, affecting their physical as well as mental health.

In its legal challenge, the charity argues that the government is in breach of the public sector equality duty. The charity is calling on the Government to widen access to free maternity care and undertake a review of the “harsh” impact of charging vulnerable migrant women for such care. 

A number of professional health bodies have previously urged the Government to scrap NHS charges for foreign pregnant women on the grounds that they are potentially harmful to mothers and babies.

Last month, the Royal College of Midwives – which represents 47,000 midwives – backed a report by Maternity Action calling on the Government to drop the fees. 

In December 2018 the Royal College of Physicians, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists published a joint statement calling on the government to abolish NHS charges pending a review.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “While we expect overseas visitors to contribute to the cost of their care just like British taxpayers do, the NHS will never refuse maternity care – regardless of whether someone can pay – and vulnerable people, including asylum seekers, are exempt.”

Spokesperson for Right to Life UK, Catherine Robinson said: 

“It’s upsetting to hear of sad stories where pregnant mothers feel that due to the nature of their circumstances they have no alternative but to abort their unborn baby.

“We want to see the Government commit to more compassionate policies that widen free maternity care and better support pregnant migrants and their unborn babies.”