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Q&A: Here's where Ireland's parties stand on women's healthcare ahead of the election

Where do the parties stand on issues like maternity and infant services, contraception and IVF?

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WE’RE NOW JUST a day out from the General Election and everything from housing and homelessness to the pension age is still being debated on doorsteps and television screens across the country. 

Here at TheJournal.ie we’ve been asking political parties for their positions on a variety of issues affecting people across Ireland. So far, we’ve published Q&A pieces on a range of issues including housing, insurance, cycling, childcareagriculture and parties’ policies on a United Ireland.  

One issue that hasn’t featured as heavily on the campaign trail is that of women’s healthcare, which most parties agree is underfunded and under-resourced in Ireland. 

So we asked the parties for responses to specific questions. In instances where responses were not forthcoming, we scrutinised their manifestos for details of their policy plans.

Here’s what they had to say:

What would your party do to improve women's healthcare in Ireland

The National Women’s Council of Ireland, in its election manifesto, called for women-centred mental health services, universal free contraception, and fully resourced maternity and infant services. 

It was part of a broader manifesto which also included measures to tackle domestic abuse and homelessness. 

Fine Gael: “Fine Gael was proud to bring forward the referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment and to legislate for the introduction of abortion services. We will introduce Safe Access Zones, to ensure that women can access these services without any impediment,” a spokesperson replied. 

“Fine Gael welcomes the fact that there is now an increased focus on women’s health issues, together with greater scrutiny of women’s experiences of health care, and we believe that is incumbent upon us to act.

“On foot of a recommendation from the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment, Minister Simon Harris established a Working Group to examine the range of issues related to accessing contraception. 

“On the 29 October 2019, the Minister published the report of the Working Group on Access to Contraception, which provided a clear overview of the challenges associated with providing free contraception, together with a number of approaches to expanding access.

“The report sets out that there are considerations beyond the economic, that should be taken into account when developing policy in this area. Having considered the report, Fine Gael is committed to delivering free contraception over a phased period beginning with women aged 17 to 25. 

This decision is based on the findings of the Working Group which suggests that younger age groups are most at risk for crisis pregnancy and are more likely to find cost a barrier to contraception.

Fianna Fáil: In response to this question, Fianna Fáil addressed the issue of contraception only. It said: “Free contraception for women is a goal we support and we hope to make significant progress on it over the next five years.”

Sinn Féin: Sinn Féin’s manifesto points to “a sphere in which inequalities are particularly acute for women”. 

“From the outrageous wrongdoings of thalidomide and symphysiotomy of the past to the more recent vaginal mesh implant and CervicalCheck scandals, we can see where inequalities have existed and continue to recur.”

The party proposes an additional €75m to fund and implement the National Maternity Strategy. Many of the recommendations in the national strategy have not been implemented due to a lack of funding. 

The party also wants free contraception for all, focused care for cardiovascular disease in women, and “compassionate care to women from ethnic and other minority backgrounds”. 

Labour Party: As part of Labour’s €1.7 billion healthcare proposal, it outlines measures to address women’s healthcare needs in its manifesto. 

It plans to implement fully the recommendations of the Scally Report which emerged from the CervicalCheck scandal and invest in specialist aftercare for women living with gynecological cancers. 

It proposes “the implementation of the National Maternity Strategy [to] ensure the National Maternity Hospital remains under State ownership”. 

Green Party: The party said deputy leader Catherine Martin had “worked hard in this Dáil term to highlight issues surrounding women’s access to healthcare, including safe and fair access to abortion services for people with crisis pregnancies”.

A spokesperson added: “With regards to access to contraception, we want to make it free for all types, inclusive of long-acting contraception, as an exclusive focus on short-acting options isn’t enough. We also want to see free appointments with doctors for contraception related matters.”

Post-partum care for mothers and babies has been underfunded, the party said. “What is needed is both a policy response – developing flexible supports for different needs – and better funding support.”

People Before Profit: In response to the question on women’s healthcare, a spokesperson said: “We want to move to a National Health Service that is free, paid for through general taxation, and treats all according to medical need not the size of their wallets.

“We want delivery on the promise for free contraceptives. We want the National Maternity Hospital to be fully secular and independent of church control.”

Social Democrats: The party, in its manifesto, highlights a number of areas where it would improve access to healthcare in general in Ireland but did not respond to specific questions on the issue.  

In relation to women’s healthcare specifically, it points to measures to improve reproductive care, as well as the roll out of free contraception. 

The condition endometriosis affects one in 10 women but there is no centre of excellence in Ireland - would you establish one if you were in Government

Fine Gael: A spokesperson said, “In September 2019, Minister Harris established a Women’s Health Taskforce, to develop a Women’s Health Action Plan as a first step in meeting expectations for care. 

This taskforce is at an early stage of its work but will consider a full range of issues affecting women’s health in Ireland.  They will also hear from external experts, I understand the Endometriosis Association of Ireland recently presented to members of the taskforce, to highlight the importance of this issue which affects so many women in Ireland.

Fianna Fáil: The party said: “A dedicated centre of excellence is an objective that Fianna Fáil would share. It is critical though that we move to improve access to gynaecology services and develop a care pathway for the one in 10 women with endometriosis.”

Green Party: The party said that Catherine Martin TD had submitted “many questions on treatment and diagnosis in the previous Dáil, and we are very aware of the pain and difficulties the condition causes for so many women”.

“We need to reduce delays in diagnosis and better education on the condition itself, considering its prevalence. We need to improve diagnoses, and a centre of excellence in Ireland would be the best way to do so.”

Other parties did not respond to this question specifically and the issue is not mentioned in the manifestos of Sinn Féin, LabourPeople Before Profit and The Social Democrats.

What would your party do to support people in need of IVF treatment

The Government announced two years ago that it would fund supports for those seeking IVF treatment through the public health system. 

Ireland and Lithuania remain the only two EU countries not to offer state funding for assisted reproduction even though the World Health Organisation recognises infertility as a medical condition. 

Most parties manifestos included this as a priority ahead of the General Election. 

Fine Gael: Fine Gael said it wants to increase funding for IVF treatment but said “it will take time”. 

“Dealing with fertility issues is really important and Fine Gael is committed to introducing a full model of care which will ensure that infertility issues are fully addressed through our public health system,” a party spokesperson said. 

“It will take time to build up this service and ensure legislation is passed, but we have started by providing a €2 million fund to develop regional fertility hubs in maternity networks, which will facilitate the management of a significant proportion of patients presenting with infertility issues. 

“We are providing funding of nearly €30m in 2021 to support the introduction of infertility services, including IVF, in the public health system.  This is in contrast to Fianna Fail who have only allocated €2m.” 

Fianna Fáil: A spokesperson for the party said: “Fianna Fáil is committed to developing a funding model for couples needing IVF. At a minimum, we are proposing to double that with a view to ultimately eliminating such costs.” 

Sinn Féin: In Sinn Féin’s manifesto, the party proposes to offer “three full cycles of IVF for all qualifying couples”. 

Labour: The Labour Party manifesto includes a measure to introduce “comprehensive free-of-charge reproductive healthcare” for all but does not specify measures to support further investment in IVF treatment. 

Green Party: “Yes we support offering IVF treatment as part of a single-tier health system based on need rather than the ability to pay, Sláintecare.” 

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