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A holy mess

Most recently, Minister for Health Simon Harris has suggested the State will seek a stake in the ownership of the new NMH after its move to the St Vincent’s campus. One suspects there are more twists and turns in this sorry saga before a resolution is reached that satisfies all stakeholders and the general public. The functionality of our creaking maternity service depends on it, given the dated and inadequate premises on Holles Street and the NMH’s key role in providing maternity and gynaecological services within the greater Dublin area and indeed as a national centre of specialist care. 

One aspect has become abundantly clear, though: A ground-swell of opinion has formed enunciating the view that religion should not have a role in modern healthcare provision — save, of course, for chaplaincy and multi-denominational support and guidance to those patients and families who wish for this type of service. But disentanglement will be easier said than done when considering the maze of historical governance and ownership arrangements in respect of Irish healthcare provision.

Minister Harris intends to initiate a broader conversation around this issue: “As we’ve seen through this process and most particularly in recent weeks, the structure of our health service is diverse and complex. A conversation has now started in Ireland regarding this. That is a good thing and I want to separately put in place a process to facilitate that broader conversation, which is long overdue and which will, rightfully, take some time.”

One does not need to look far to see the religious theme dominating official documentation issued by publicly-funded hospitals. When the Medical Independent (MI) researched the area of clinical ethics committees this time last year, for example, we found that the Mercy University Hospital’s Code of Governance, Corporate Ethics and Business Conduct, published in November 2015, had the first listed function of the clinical ethics committee as reflecting “in its policies and practices the moral, ethical and social teaching of the Catholic Church as a result of its character, identification and tradition”.

In fact, the hospital’s religious ethos was writ large throughout the document, which also outlined the hospital’s ethical responsibility to carefully consider patients’ values and preferences, including decisions to discontinue treatment and recognise its responsibilities under the law.

That is but one example — and Minister Harris’s ‘conversation’ is welcome but, as he acknowledged, long overdue.

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