HSE asked for controversial ‘clinically appropriate’ phrase in NMH deal, chief executive Paul Reid says

HSE chief Paul Reid. Photo: Colin Keegan

HSE chief Paul Reid. Photo: Colin Keegan

Eilish O'Regan

The phrase “clinically appropriate” was inserted into documents relating to the new National Maternity Hospital (NMH) at the request of the HSE in order to “future proof” it for obstetric and related services, HSE chief executive Paul Reid said today.

Mr Reid, who was before the Oireachtas Health Committee to discuss the HSE’s service plan for 2022, was replying to questions from Fianna Fáil TD John Lahart who asked him about the HSE’s role around the contentious phrase.

It has led to concerns that it is open to interpretation and could lead to some legally permissible services such as abortion being excluded.

In response Mr Reid confirmed it was the HSE that sought the phrase to ensure the hospital was “protected” from being used for the provision of other general hospital services.

“It is about future-proofing it to ensure it would not be compromised,” he said. All parties were committed to that principle, he added.

Opponents have raised concerns about the religious ethos of St Vincent’s and pointed to the phrase “clinically appropriate” in relation to what services would be provided at the new hospital as potentially opening the door to procedures such as abortion and sterilisation being ruled out.

The Government has now given the go-ahead for the agreement around the new hospital to be built on the St Vincent’s hospital campus.

HSE clinical officer Dr Colm Henry said 11 of the 19 maternity hospitals and units are now providing abortion services.

“Sligo is the latest to come on board,” he added.

However, due to staffing issues not all units will be providing the service by the end of the year.

Earlier Mr Reid said that talks are under way at the Workplace Relations Commission in a bid to solve the pay and unfilled posts dispute with medical scientists who are on a 12-hour strike today, leading to up to 14,000 appointments being cancelled.

Liam Woods, HSE head of acute services, said it would have a major impact if the planned stoppages over two days go ahead next week also.

The committee was told that the impact of infection control measures in hospitals in the first months of 2022 hit the plan to reduce waiting lists for non-Covid care.

Mr Reid said: “The focus of the 2022 Waiting List Action Plan is for waiting times for hospital procedures to be reduced to a maximum of one year by the end of 2022 and the maximum time an outpatient will have to wait to be assessed by a hospital consultant to be 18 months by the end of the year.

“In 2022, we are operationalising additional bed capacity, including capital and staffing, as follows – the final 308 acute beds from NSP 2021 (approval total of 1,146 beds); opening a further 72 acute beds in 2022; completing an additional 36 critical care beds (giving a total of 333); and completing an additional 258 community beds.”

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