Press release: New report from multidisciplinary group highlights fragile abortion service in Northern Ireland
Date: 09 Jun 2022
Type: FSRH Press Releases and Statements
The Northern Ireland Abortion and Contraception Taskgroup (NIACT) has today released an Annual Review charting the progress made since the introduction of the Abortion (Northern Ireland) Regulations 2020.
The report highlights that the failure to commission abortion services has resulted in a fragile service which has only been possible through the dedication of a small number of staff.
No public health awareness campaign has been introduced to provide information on the availability of local abortion services. Women are still travelling to Great Britain to access care, and some continue to resort to using online pills to procure their own abortions.
No new guidance has been produced for healthcare professionals to update them on the change in law and the impact this will have on them, including their right to conscientious objection, and the circumstances in which they can avail of this.
The lack of commissioning has meant that trusts have not been able to obtain funding to train staff and to provide comprehensive sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services, including contraception provision in the postnatal period.
Northern Ireland has been without a Sexual Health Strategy since 2015, and SRH services have no consultant leadership. Meanwhile, and often to the detriment of pupils, the ethos of individual schools continues to play a significant factor in the provision and development of relationships and sexuality education (RSE).
Dr Ralph Roberts, Chair of NIACT, said:
“Our review highlights areas in which progress has been made and the dedication of the people who have helped to achieve this. However, the lack of a Sexual Health Strategy and failure to commission abortion services have undermined the development of high-quality integrated services. While the recent intervention from the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is welcome, there is still an undercurrent of political resistance and work is required to build the services which our new framework envisages.”
Dr Laura McLaughlin, Co-chair of Doctors for Choice NI, said:
“Local healthcare options available to women in Northern Ireland remain inadequate. The abortion services that do exist are maintained by a small number of dedicated staff and face the constant threat of collapse. It remains our preference that the Health Minister commissions abortion services. However, if he continues to refuse to do so, the Secretary of State must urgently intervene to ensure that women’s rights are upheld.”
Karen Murray, Royal College of Midwives Director for Northern Ireland, said:
“The failure to commission abortion services and the lack of guidance for health professionals, including around conscientious objection, is of particular concern. The Health Minister must act quickly to address this, as well as delivering the comprehensive Sexual Health Strategy that our population so desperately needs.”
Ruairi Rowan, Director of Advocacy and Policy for Informing Choices NI, said:
“Children and young people continue to be failed through the provision of inadequate relationships and sexuality education. We believe there should be a standardised curriculum across all schools, regardless of their ethos, which is fact-based and inclusive in order to best meet the educational needs of all pupils in Northern Ireland.”
Dr Edward Morris, President of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said:
“While there has been some welcome progress since NIACT’s initial report in 2021, there is much still left to do to ensure the women and girls of Northern Ireland are getting the comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services (SRH) and education they need and deserve. This should start with high quality relationships and sexuality education in school and it must include an NHS that is properly resourced to provide the full range of SRH services.
“Crucially, everyone must be able to access fully-functioning abortion services across the country. It is simply unacceptable that women still have to travel to Great Britain to have an abortion more than two years after the Regulations in Northern Ireland were issued. These delays cannot continue, and we urge the Department of Health to take immediate action to address the recommendations in this annual review on abortion and SRH more broadly, to ensure that the health of the women and girls of Northern Ireland is given the priority it deserves.”
Dr Asha Kasliwal, President of the UK’s Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare, said:
“The Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare (FSRH) welcomes the annual review by the Northern Ireland Abortion and Contraception Taskgroup.
“It is heartening to see that some progress has been made due to the tireless work of dedicated sexual and reproductive healthcare professionals. However, we need political commitment and resourcing to build a truly comprehensive, holistic sexual and reproductive health service for everyone in Northern Ireland.
“There remains no investment in a Northern Ireland-based training programme for either Consultants or GPs. We strongly support the call for investment in training. It is crucial that training for specialist sexual and reproductive healthcare doctors is funded and commissioned. Currently, there is no sexual and reproductive healthcare Consultant in Northern Ireland. As a consequence, the workforce is left with no specialist support to provide high-quality, evidence-based services and no opportunities to be trained further. Patients are left with very limited options for specialist care.
“We urge the Department of Health to take stock of NIACT’s review. We also call on the Department of Health to develop a sexual and reproductive health strategy that would afford the necessary strategic prioritisation that the area desperately needs.”
Contact point – Dr Fiona Bloomer, NIACT member
NOTES TO EDITORS
1. The Annual Review can be found here
2. 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.
3. Despite the lack of commissioning, a small group of dedicated healthcare professionals, led by NIACT members, have provided an early medical abortion service since April 2020. The Department of Health has indicated they received 2794 notifications of terminations between 31st March 2020 and 31st January 2022.
4. In March 2021, NIACT published a detailed report with 38 recommendations to provide an evidence base to inform the funding and commissioning of RSE provision, and SRH services for the population of Northern Ireland. The Annual Review considers the progress made on these recommendations. The original report can be found here.