Private firms are to be used to provide scans for pregnant women wanting abortions, due to long waiting lists in the public health system.
The Health Service Executive (HSE) has asked private operators to tender for the provision of all forms of ultrasound at 12 sites across the country. The ultrasounds will be offered at primary care centres including GP practices, local hospitals and “private locations”.
Under the planned abortion service, GPs would refer a woman for a scan if it was deemed clinically necessary. This would occur if the pregnancy needed to be accurately dated as abortions via a GP-administered abortion pill can only take place within the first nine weeks gestation. After that, dangerous complications could arise.
The Irish College of GPs (ICGP) has said there is “genuine worry” promised rapid access to ultrasounds will not be delivered. Current delays in accessing scans generally are illustrated in the HSE tender documents, which reveal waiting list figures for several areas. In Waterford, 3,000 patients are waiting for an ultrasound and in South Tipperary the list has 1,000 patients on it, while in Letterkenny 400 patients are waiting.
Even though patients are seen more quickly in urgent situations, the existence of such lengthy lists is not viewed as compatible with the need to be able to refer women in crisis pregnancies quickly for ultrasounds.