'We’re missing opportunity to separate church and State': Cork GP says many not reassured over NMH

“There are a lot of unhappy GPs out there and hospital staff, as well as a good proportion of the population.”
'We’re missing opportunity to separate church and State': Cork GP says many not reassured over NMH

Mary Favier, a former president of the Irish College of General Practitioners and co-founder of Doctors for Choice Ireland, was speaking to The Echo after the Government agreed a 299-year lease with the St Vincent’s Health Group for the site at Elm Park to be used for the NMH.

A Cork GP has raised concerns about the National Maternity Hospital (NMH) site ownership, saying that reassurances from the Government are not enough for the people of Ireland who remember the role of the church and nuns in the healthcare of women in the past.

Mary Favier, a former president of the Irish College of General Practitioners and co-founder of Doctors for Choice Ireland, was speaking to The Echo after the Government agreed a 299-year lease with the St Vincent’s Health Group for the site at Elm Park to be used for the NMH.

Concerns have been raised about the possible influence of the religious site owners on the day-to-day operations of the hospital but speaking in the Dáil in recent days, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said there will be “no church involvement” in the new hospital.

However, Dr Favier said many in the GP community and wider healthcare field are concerned about the possible impact.

“The GP community would be in support of getting this project going because we need to be able to provide that care,” said Dr Favier. 

“But there is also a substantial group that would say it’s not appropriate as is and that we’re missing the opportunity to separate church and State.

“There are a lot of unhappy GPs out there and hospital staff, as well as a good proportion of the population.”

Dr Favier said there is a worry that the concerns of the majority of healthcare workers and the wider population are being ignored.

“The Irish population, women in particular, have very long memories of the Catholic Church and nuns in the healthcare of women.

“They are not reassured and they feel it is inappropriate for such a significant hospital and a significant transfer of State assets to go to a church-controlled environment.

“The Catholic Church takes a very long view of things so decades and centuries is not an issue for the Vatican, so the long lease is not very reassuring. We could have a change in the political framework — just look at the rise of the religious right in the United States and the impact that is having.

“If there was a similar rise here in Ireland, would the church feel emboldened and then say they would not undertake these procedures at the hospital?” she asked. “What protections would Irish women have in that case?”

Ownership fundamental 

Dr Favier said that the ownership of the site is the “fundamental issue” in this case.

“The Government has attempted to provide comfort and reassurances on this issue but it should have been the church that was doing this,” she said.

“When it was discussed, we should have been able to see the Vatican correspondence on the issue and they should have proven their willingness by giving the site to the State.

“But they haven’t done that and the Government and political system has been left trying to reassure people and I think the bottom line is that people are not reassured.”

Department response 

A spokesperson for the Department of Health said the Government has approved the legal framework that will underpin the relocation of the NMH to the St Vincent’s campus at Elm Park.

He added that the legal framework will “ensure that all legally permissible services will be available in the new NMH, prevent any influence, religious or otherwise, on the operation of the new hospital, and safeguard the State’s significant investment in the hospital.

“All legally permissible services that are currently provided at the NMH at Holles St will be provided in the new NMH in Elm Park. This includes termination of pregnancy, provision of contraception services including tubal ligation, fertility services, and gender affirmation procedures.

“Clinical services at the new NMH will not be provided according to any religious ethos but only according to best national and international clinical practice.”

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