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As of Wednesday, 16 January, 236 GPs nationally had signed-up to provide abortion services, a HSE spokesperson said.
But despite the slow rise in GP provision, several GPs have contacted the NAGP complaining of lack of access to hospital services in their region, NAGP President Dr Maitiú Ó Tuathail told MI.
Dr Ó Tuathail said a number of GPs are having problems referring surgical abortion cases to hospitals, as many hospitals are still not providing the service, while others that are have limited access to patients within their catchment area.
“There is very unequal distribution of services to date. The services in the Leinster region are very patchy,” he said.
The National Maternity Hospital, Holles Street, and the Rotunda Hospital, both in Dublin, as of last week were only accepting patients from within their catchment areas, Dr Ó Tuathail said, while other hospitals in the region were not accepting referrals.
This was creating difficulties for GPs seeking to refer patients over nine weeks’ gestation to hospital, Dr Ó Tuathail said. In early January, however, the HSE wrote to all hospitals, stating they were not permitted to enforce catchment areas.
Last week, the Department of Health said all 19 maternity hospitals or units were providing some level of abortion care.
The NAGP has sought information from the HSE and Department on how many GPs providing abortion services are doing so on the basis of universal access, and how many are providing the service to their patients only, but has not been given an answer.
Dr Ó Tuathail stated that the HSE has said that the number of GPs providing the service was “in flux”, with new GPs signing up and others who had signed up opting out of providing the service.
Cork GP Dr Mike Thompson of Start Doctors said that about half of GPs providing services have chosen to provide universal access.
He believes that as further education is provided to GPs in the coming months, more GPs will sign up.
“It is a very busy time to start a new service,” Dr Thompson said.
Meanwhile, other GPs who spoke to this newspaper referenced several reasons why some GPs had yet to sign up, including the lack of availability of hospital services, the approach of the busy winter ‘flu’ season, and clinic protests.
Despite the obstacles, however, IMO GP Chairman Dr Pádraig McGarry has said he is confident that “before long, we could have well in excess of 300 GPs providing the service”.