Northern Ireland Abortion and Contraception Taskgroup publishes new vision to deliver abortion, contraception and sex education
Date: 31 Mar 2021
Type: Sexual and Reproductive Health News
The Northern Ireland Abortion and Contraception Taskgroup (NIACT) has published a new report, outlining a vision for how education and healthcare providers can support sexual and reproductive health. The report is published today, one year after abortion regulations came into effect in Northern Ireland. NIACT membership includes members of the Northern Ireland Committee of the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare (FSRH).
The report, written by a multidisciplinary group of doctors, nurses, midwives, GPs and academics, recommends a new approach to relationships and sex education (RSE), contraception and abortion care. It urges the Executive to commission and fund these services without delay.
Its vision states that all children and young people should be provided with a high-quality education that teaches them about healthy relationships, consent, sexuality, and the ability to decide when, and if, to start a family. That all young people and adults should be educated about the benefits and effectiveness of different methods of contraception. Women and girls should be empowered to manage their fertility, and contraception should be easily accessible and freely available. When a pregnancy is unintended, women and girls should be supported with decision making in a way that is unbiased, non-judgmental, and devoid of stigma.
Where abortion is needed, services should be accessible, high-quality, and designed to deliver safe compassionate care within the NHS.
The report provides an evidence base and 38 recommendations to inform the funding and commissioning of comprehensive sexual and reproductive education and integrated healthcare for the population of Northern Ireland which is compliant with the regulations which came into effect in 2020.
Dr Ralph Roberts, Chair of NIACT, said:
“We have a vision that every child in Northern Ireland is born into a family that has both the will and means to support their needs and nurture their development, with support from the state as required.
“Children and young people need to be given the knowledge and skills they need to manage their sexual and reproductive health and wellbeing across the life course. This must begin with high quality relationships and sex education in our schools, and it must include an NHS that is funded to provide the sexual and reproductive healthcare services they need.
“Our report provides a number of recommendations which, if followed, would finally deliver high-quality services and meet our legal obligations.
“The Northern Ireland Executive has resisted every opportunity to take action. It is time for them to stop playing politics and to start providing women with the services they are legally entitled to.”
Dr Edward Morris, President of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), said:
“The UK Government has made it clear that the delay in funding and commissioning abortion care services for the women of Northern Ireland cannot continue.
“This report clearly demonstrates the value of providing comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services to women, and importantly provides the solutions for how to make this a reality. There can be no more excuses for dither and delay, it is time for the Northern Ireland Executive to deliver for girls and women.”
Dr Asha Kasliwal, President of the UK’s Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare (FSRH), said:
“The Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare welcomes the new report by the Northern Ireland Abortion and Contraception Taskgroup.
“The report comes at a crucial time for Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare (SRH) services in Northern Ireland. The legal framework for abortion care introduced a year ago provides an opportunity to develop a comprehensive service for the region, but we will need political commitment and investment to turn this vision into a reality.
“A historic lack of strategic prioritisation has led to the under-resourcing of services and workforce. We strongly support the call for investment in training with a focus on recruiting into the community as well as GP training programmes.
“It is also paramount that training for specialist SRH doctors is funded and commissioned. Currently, there is no SRH Consultant in Northern Ireland, and one Trust has no SRH doctor. Any doctor wishing to become a specialist in SRH needs to access training in other parts of the UK. As a consequence, the SRH workforce across the nation is left with no specialist support to provide high-quality, evidence-based care and no opportunities to be trained further.
“We urge the Department of Health to take stock of the Task Group’s recommendations. We look forward to working with the Department and its arms-length bodies to ensure women and girls can access comprehensive SRH care wherever they live in Northern Ireland.”
Karen Murray, Director for Northern Ireland at the Royal College of Midwives (RCM), said:
“The changes to abortion regulations in Northern Ireland that came in a year ago were a milestone for women’s rights. However, there is still much to do to put women’s needs front and centre and reverse the chronic and long-standing under investment in reproductive and sexual health. We must integrate all the elements that feed into this including how we educate our young people in schools on this issue. This is also not just about sexual and reproductive health: poor care and services in these areas has a direct impact on the overall health of women.
“There is a strong need for change, for more resources and for new thinking on this, all of which this report addresses. I urge the Northern Ireland Assembly to read this report, act on it, and deliver a sexual and reproductive health strategy fit for the 21st century, and fit for the needs of women today and into the future.”
Contact point – Dr Fiona Bloomer, NIACT member, 07759711515; email NIACT.firstname.lastname@example.org. We also have a case study able to provide her experience regarding difficulty accessing abortion care before the new regulations.
NOTES TO EDITORS
- The Northern Ireland Abortion and Contraception Taskgroup (NIACT) is a group of multidisciplinary professionals who have come together in response to the Abortion (Northern Ireland) Regulations 2020, to give guidance on minimising the need for abortion in Northern Ireland and achieving a compassionate and caring abortion service within the framework of the regulations
- The full report can be accessed here and the executive summary can be accessed here
- Despite the lack of commissioning, a small group of dedicated doctors and nurses led by NIACT members have provided an early medical abortion service over the last 12 months. Over 1,000 women have availed of this service and had an abortion, and most have also been provided long acting reversible contraception.