Health | Provision of health services for 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; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
Progressing women’s health is a priority for myself and for this Government. We made a strong commitment to Promoting Women’s Health in the Programme for Government 2020 and are fully committed to the continued development and improvement of women’s health services and to working with women and girls to improve their health and experiences of healthcare across the whole life cycle.
Underscoring our commitment to women’s health was 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 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. Critical to this work is the process of listening to women – the Taskforce has so far listened to, engaged with and worked with thousands of women and hundreds of organisations representing women and girls across the country and commits to continued listening.
The Women’s Health Action Plan 2022-23 was published on 8 March 2022, marking International Women’s Day. The Action Plan identifies key actions to improve health outcomes and experiences for women in Ireland. It 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 and 2023,which allocated €31m and €69.2m respectively 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 free 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.
- €10m Women’s Health Fund, supporting implementation of key priorities for women’s health.
- €11.7 million to provide access to publicly funded IVF treatment.
- Elimination of VAT on HRT and period products.
- Expansion of the Free Contraception Scheme to cover women aged 30 and under.
- €10million investment in the Women’s Health Fund to continue support for women’s health priority areas.
- €0.9m investment in the development of Women’s Health Hubs, for the holistic provision of women’s healthcare.
Prioritisation of women’s health in our service provision is seen in the completed and ongoing work happening to improve healthcare for women across the country. There have been a number of key developments since the establishment of the Women’s Health Taskforce and the Women’s Health Action Plan 2022-23.
- Contraception: A scheme to provide free contraception to women aged 17-25 was launched successfully on 14 September 2022 and was expanded to include 26-year-olds on 1 January 2023. Budget 2023 has allocated funding to support the scheme and work is underway expand it to women under 30 in 2023.
- Menopause: 6 Specialist Menopause Clinics to treat complex symptoms of Menopause, with 5/6 clinics currently open and operational. A GP Quick Reference Guide on Menopause was launched in October 2022 to support primary care practitioners in treating menopause and referring patients to Specialist Clinics. The first National Menopause Awareness Campaign (Radio, Online, Print, TV) was launched by the Department of Health to raise awareness and “lift the taboo” around menopause. Gov.ie/menopause was launched as a one-stop shop for information about menopause and its symptoms as well as advice on proactive management. Removal of VAT from HRT in Budget 2023.
- Fertility: 6 Regional Fertility Hubs are being established to provided tailored, low-level intervention for patients with fertility issues. Investment to support publicly-fund Assisted Human Reproduction has also been allocated and will see the first National Advanced AHR Centre established.
- Gynaecology: A network of 21 “see and treat” ambulatory gynaecology clinics are in development, where an estimated 70% of general gynaecology referrals are suitable for management. 12 Ambulatory Gynae Clinics are currently open and operational, with additional clinics in development. The national network will improve access to services and help to reduce the requirement for multiple gynaecology appointments, ensuring sustainability of service provision into the future given the significant waiting lists for this specialty; and will, ultimately, help improve clinical outcomes.
- Endometriosis: Delivering two, first-of-their-kind, Specialist Endometriosis Centres for complex care located in Cork University Maternity Hospital and Tallaght University Hospital. A National Framework for Endometriosis care is being developed, which sets out for the first time a defined clinical care pathway for women with endometriosis. In 2022, the Women’s Health Fund invested in five additional interdisciplinary teams to support holistic treatment of endometriosis within the maternity networks. These will form a network of regional endometriosis hub services that will co-ordinate care within their respective Hospital Groups and support the complex services in Tallaght and Cork.
- Maternity: €8.66m was allocated to the National Maternity Strategy in 2022, providing for further development of community midwifery services, expansion of breastfeeding supports, improved access to allied and specialised services and strengthened training and education supports for staff. This investment is also improving the infrastructure of our maternity services by providing additional home-from-home birthing suites and upgrades to theatres and wards.
- Mental Health: The Women’s Health Fund provided investment in 2022 to support a range of services for women and girls, including digital mental health services access, improving perinatal mental health supports, enhancing specialist eating disorder supports, providing targeted mental health supports for marginalised women and women in addiction and responding to the needs of young girls at risk of developing psychosis.
- The Women’s Health Fund has invested in a range of service areas, responding to the needs of women in year. Areas include cancer screening and immunisation, primary care supports, maternity services and postnatal hubs, gynaecology, mental health and supports for marginalised groups.
- Period Poverty: Removal of VAT from period products in Budget 2023. Funding of €714,000 was allocated for period poverty initiatives in Budget 2022, this funding was then increased in 2023 to €814,000. This funding supports period dignity measures rolled out in partnership with the HSE, local authorities and NGOs. The Healthy Ireland Survey, 2022, included a module on menstrual health and period poverty, finding that 51% of women currently having periods experience disruption to participating in daily life (work, school, sports, social events) as a result of symptoms, and that 24% have experience of period poverty.
In the longer-term, through a population health approach championed in the Sláintecare report, we will be planning services around 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.
Implementation of the services listed above represents significant development and advancement for women’s health 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 into the future.
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