Health | Reliability of health services to women
To ask the Minister for Health the extent to which women’s health specifically remains central to the provision and delivery of a reliable level and quality of health services in all areas throughout Ireland without exception; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
Progressing women’s health is a priority for this government. We made a strong commitment to Promoting Women’s Health in the Programme for Government and are fully committed to the development and improvement of Women’s Health services and to working with women and girls to improve their health across the whole life cycle.
Underscoring the government’s commitment to women’s health has been the establishment of a Women’s Health Taskforce in September 2019 to improve both health outcomes and experiences of healthcare for women and girls. The members of the Taskforce meet regularly, with its sixteenth meeting held earlier this month. The Women’s Health Taskforce continues to work with the National Women’s Council of Ireland and the European Institute of Women’s Health to prioritise different issues each year with the aim of improving women’s health outcomes and experiences of healthcare. Critical to this work is the process of listening to women – the Taskforce has so far listened to, engaged with and worked with more than 2,000 women and hundreds of organisations representing women and girls across the country and will continue to listen.
The Women’s Health Action Plan (a fully funded strategy) was launched in March 2022, shaped and informed by these voices. The majority of these actions are in progress and we are ahead of schedule on a number of important initiatives – in particular menopause care. This Action Plan provides the foundation to address women’s whole health and help ensure that action on women’s health looks beyond reproductive health to make a real difference to women’s lives.
Prioritisation of women’s health is further supported through the significant investment contained within Budget 2022 which ring-fenced €31m in funding for new developments in Women’s Health. This includes:
- €8.66 million additional funding for the National Maternity Strategy.
- €9 million to fund access to contraception for women aged 17-25.
- €5.3 million to grow access to “see and treat” gynaecology clinics; specialist menopause clinics; and specialist endometriosis services.
- €1.34 million to support initial establishment of a perinatal genetics service
- €0.71m investment in tackling period poverty for the first time.
- €0.54million to establish an expert Obstetric Event Support Team to support services and sites that report severe maternity incidents
- €0.25m additional investment in Sexual Assault Treatment Units.
- In addition, the Women’s Health Fund (€10 million) was continued through an investment of an additional €5m to respond to women and fund new initiatives or accelerate initiatives as required. For example, on 28th April 2022 I allocated up to 2.5 million of the Women’s Health Fund to priority areas within the Women’s Health Action Plan, Menopause, Endometriosis, Post-natal hubs, targeted support for marginalised women.
We are making excellent progress in implementing this programme of work. 6 menopause clinics nationwide will be open by end 2022 one in each maternity network for those who require complex specialist care – this is 2 more than was envisaged at the time of publication. There are now 5 regional fertility hubs open and operational. The completion of this roll-out, envisaged before the end of this year, will result in 6 operational hubs, one in each of the maternity networks / Hospital Groups across the country. According to NWHIP an estimated 50%-70% of patients presenting with infertility issues at this level of intervention.
As part of the work of the Women’s Health Taskforce, in April 2021, I announced the expansion of the endometriosis service at Tallaght University Hospital (TUH) to deliver a specialist endometriosis service for advanced and complex cases for which there had previously been no ready access in Ireland. Budget 2022 funding will enable the expansion of the endometriosis service at TUH as well as the establishment of a new service for more complex endometriosis cases at Cork University Maternity Hospital. This investment will result in 2 supra-regional specialist centres for complex care for endometriosis for the first-time.
In April 2022, as part of a ring-fenced investment from the Women’s Health Fund, I announced funding for six additional interdisciplinary teams to support holistic treatment of endometriosis within each of the hospital networks.
In the longer-term, through a population health approach championed in the Sláintecare report, we will be planning services around the needs of our entire population. This will involve characterising the health and social care needs of our entire population. Factors that will inform this include age, socioeconomic status, disability status, health care utilisation patterns, ethnicity, and gender. The insights gained from this will form an evidence base that will inform future service planning, workforce planning, review of eligibility, and capital planning. The service needs of women will be considered as part of all this.
This progress represents significant service development and advancement nationwide, but this remains a work in progress. I am committed to the full implementation of the Women’s Health Action Plan 2022-23 and will continue to drive progress in all areas of women’s health to fulfil its mandate.
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