AMANDA FERGUSON in Belfast
Wednesday, March 31, 2021
The Northern Ireland Abortion and Contraception Taskgroup (NIACT) is a multidisciplinary group of professionals formed in response to the Abortion (Northern Ireland) Regulations 2020 to give guidance on bringing about the conditions and services required to minimise the need for abortion in Northern Ireland and, when it is required, to provide a compassionate and caring abortion service within the framework of the Regulations.
March 31st is the first anniversary of the Abortion (Northern Ireland) Regulations coming into effect but abortion services are yet to be commissioned.
NIACT is marking this anniversary by publishing a report on Sexual and Reproductive Health. Read it in full by clicking: here
The purpose of the NIACT report is to provide an evidence base to inform the funding and commissioning of relationship and sexuality education (RSE) provision, and integrated sexual and reproductive healthcare for the population of Northern Ireland.
The report, written by a multidisciplinary group of doctors, nurses, midwives, GPs and academics, recommends a new approach to relationships and sex education (RSE), contraception and abortion care.
It urges the Executive to commission and fund these services without delay.
Its vision states that all children and young people should be provided with a high-quality education that teaches them about healthy relationships, consent,
sexuality, and the ability to decide when, and if, to start a family.
That all young people and adults should be educated about the benefits and effectiveness of different methods of contraception. Women and girls should be empowered to manage their fertility, and contraception should be easily accessible and freely available.
When a pregnancy is unintended, women and girls should be supported with decision making in a way that is unbiased, non-judgmental, and devoid of stigma.
Where abortion is needed, services should be accessible, high-quality, and designed to deliver safe compassionate care within the NHS.
The report provides an evidence base and 38 recommendations to inform the funding and commissioning of comprehensive sexual and reproductive education and integrated healthcare for the population of Northern Ireland which is compliant with the regulations which came into effect in 2020.
Dr Ralph Roberts, Chair of NIACT, said: “We have a vision that every child in Northern Ireland is born into a family that has both the will and means to support their needs and nurture their development, with support from the state as required.
“Children and young people need to be given the knowledge and skills they need to manage their sexual and reproductive health and wellbeing across the life course. This must begin with high quality relationships and sex education in our schools, and it must include an NHS that is funded to provide the sexual and reproductive healthcare services they need.
“Our report provides a number of recommendations which, if followed, would finally deliver high-quality services and meet our legal obligations.
“The Northern Ireland Executive has resisted every opportunity to take action. It is time for them to stop playing politics and to start providing women with the services they are legally entitled to.”
Dr Edward Morris, President of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said: “The UK Government has made it clear that the delay in funding and commissioning abortion care services for the women of Northern Ireland cannot continue.
“This report clearly demonstrates the value of providing comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services to women, and importantly provides the solutions for how to make this a reality.
"There can be no more excuses for dither and delay, it is time for the Northern Ireland Executive to deliver for girls and women.”
Dr Asha Kasliwal, President of the UK’s Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare (FSRH), said:
“The Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare welcomes the new report by the Northern Ireland Abortion and Contraception Taskgroup.
“The report comes at a crucial time for Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare (SRH) services in Northern Ireland. The legal framework for abortion care introduced a year ago provides an opportunity to develop a comprehensive
service for the region, but we will need political commitment and investment to turn this vision into a reality.
“A historic lack of strategic prioritisation has led to the under-resourcing of services and workforce. We strongly support the call for investment in training
with a focus on recruiting into the community as well as GP training programmes.
“It is also paramount that training for specialist SRH doctors is funded and commissioned. Currently, there is no SRH Consultant in Northern Ireland, and one Trust has no SRH doctor.
"Any doctor wishing to become a specialist in SRH needs to access training in other parts of the UK. As a consequence, the SRH workforce across the nation is left with no specialist support to provide high-quality, evidence-based care and no opportunities to be trained further.
“We urge the Department of Health to take stock of the Task Group’s recommendations. We look forward to working with the Department and its arms-length bodies to ensure women and girls can access comprehensive SRH care wherever they live in Northern Ireland.”
Karen Murray, Director for Northern Ireland at the Royal College of Midwives, said: “The changes to abortion regulations in Northern Ireland that came in a year ago were a milestone for women’s rights. However, there is still much to do to
put women’s needs front and centre and reverse the chronic and long-standing under investment in reproductive and sexual health.
"We must integrate all the elements that feed into this including how we educate our young people in schools on this issue. This is also not just about sexual and reproductive health: poor care and services in these areas has a direct impact on the overall health of women.
“There is a strong need for change, for more resources and for new thinking on this, all of which this report addresses. I urge the Northern Ireland Assembly to read this report, act on it, and deliver a sexual and reproductive
health strategy fit for the 21st century, and fit for the needs of women today and into the future."
Green Party NI leader Clare Bailey MLA has welcomed the findings of a report from the Northern Ireland Abortion and Contraception Taskgroup (NIACT).
Clare Bailey MLA said: "It's worth noting that this report comes at a time when services are being denied to women despite the legal framework for abortion services having been published last year.
"However, this report details a positive vision for how education and healthcare providers can support sexual and reproductive health.
"The report recommends that all children and young people should be provided with a high-quality education that teaches them about healthy relationships, consent, sexuality, and the ability to decide when, and if, to start a family.
"This echoes the longstanding Green Party NI call for mandatory and comprehensive Relationship and Sexuality Education (RSE) in all Northern Ireland schools. At present, the provision of RSE is patchy and inconsistent. Many schools teach RSE on the basis of their ethos and its commonplace for external organisations to come into schools and teach on the basis of abstinence and without provision for same sex relationships.
"The Gillen review and the findings of a 2018 CEDAW report made similar recommendations around the provision of RSE, yet the Executive has failed to act. Women are being failed again - it's time for the Executive to commit itself to addressing the scourge of violence against women and girls and bring NI in line with international human rights standards."
Emma Campbell, Co-Convenor Alliance for Choice said:
“Alliance for Choice is hugely grateful to all of the health professionals involved in the provision of our interim abortion services. It is clear that they are doing as much as they can in an unnecessarily restrictive environment. The only thing preventing them from offering the full range of services the law requires, is Robin Swann and Department of Health inaction.
That so many women and pregnant people have been treated in NI despite this, is a testament to their conscientious commitment to care. We urge all parties at Stormont to read this report carefully and consider the recommendations made by NIACT as long overdue.”
People Before Profit MLA Gerry Carroll has welcomed the report of the NI Abortion and Contraception Taskgroup, calling it 'important'. He said:
“People Before Profit endorse NIACT’s call for easier access to contraception, for proper Relationships and Sexuality Education, and for commissioning of abortion services.
“We share NIACT’s vision “that every child in Northern Ireland is born into a family that has both the will and means to support their needs and nurture their development, with support from the state as needed”.
“This important report provides information to clinicians and policy makers about the kind of services which would best provide evidence-based, not religious-based, reproductive health care, and I welcome that.”
“I also want to welcome the Save the Children factsheet on child poverty which is very timely. It is deeply troubling that children growing up in poverty while both parents are working has doubled in the last decade, from 17% to 35%.
“Those who would stop the provision of abortion services here ignore how hard it is for working class families to make ends meet these days. Too many families find they cannot welcome another child because of the impact of welfare reform, especially the benefit cap and the two child policy. The latter affects families who would have relied on working tax credits, as well as those on benefits.”
Despite the lack of commissioning, a small group of dedicated doctors and nurses led by NIACT members have provided an early medical abortion service over the last 12 months.
Over 1,000 women have availed of this service and had an abortion, and most have also been provided long acting reversible contraception.
See also - March 2021: STORMONT CROSS COMMUNITY VETO USED THREE TIMES TO BLOCK WOMEN'S REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS
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