More than 600 academics from 43 Irish universities have signed an open letter opposing the new Government-funded €55m National Maternity Hospital being built on St Vincent’s Hospital grounds.
The group believe the construction stands to restrict healthcare ethics and autonomy and that the structures will result in the lowest standard of care.
The academics are concerned that ownership of the new hospital will be handed to St Vincent’s Healthcare Group, which holds links to the Religious Sisters of Charity.
As such, they say that Catholic ethos will in some way shape the decisions taken by the hospital.
An open letter signed by 627 academics reads: ‘We the undersigned academics and scholars, writing from 43 Irish higher education institutions, call on the Government, the HSE and all other stakeholders to ensure that the new National Maternity Hospital is established and run with complete autonomy and free from interference from religious principles or bodies, and in particular the Religious Sisters of Charity.
‘Any arrangement whereby ownership and/or control of the new hospital is vested in, or affiliated with, a religious body or bodies whose teaching, practices and ethos are founded primarily on religious grounds would seriously compromise autonomy of medical decision-making and the principle of free-conscience in healthcare, thereby presenting a significant risk to the health of pregnant and birthing people.
‘Maternal health care decisions must be autonomous and free from any restrictive influence of religious teaching and we demand that the new hospital is not bound by any religious ethos, doctrine or tradition.
‘The failure to act on this demand will result in the lowest standard of care for pregnant people in our National Maternity Hospital.
‘We hereby call on relevant parties to ensure that the new National Maternity Hospital at St Vincent’s will be truly independent of all religious affiliations and that all healthcare services provided shall be founded on the autonomy of medical decision-making; freedom of conscience between service providers and those they serve, as well as respect and safe-care for all.’
Meanwhile, campaign group Not Our Church was set up to oppose the new facility being controlled or influenced by Catholic Church teaching in any way, and is planning a demonstration outside Leinster House on Wednesday February 15.
The group also launched a ‘Save Our New Maternity Hospital from Church Control’ petition.
It reads: ‘The new Maternity Hospital that was announced to great fanfare recently is to be located on the grounds of St Vincent’s private hospital, which is owned by the Religious Sisters of Charity.
‘This raises serious questions about the related Catholic ethos of the hospital, ethics and care for pregnant women and families.
‘We are calling on the Government, the National Maternity Hospital and St Vincent’s Healthcare Group to ensure that the new Maternity Hospital at St Vincent’s will be truly independent of all religious affiliations and that all healthcare services provided shall be founded on the autonomy of medical decision-making; freedom of conscience between service providers and those they serve, as well as respect and safe-care for all.’
The new National Maternity Hospital was given the go ahead in October 2016 and is expected to open in 2021.
An Addendum to the existing agreement between St Vincent’s and the National Maternity Hospital was issued on February 2.
It clarifies that the HSE will own the new National Maternity Hospital and that the Hospital will be independent in its management and clinical decision-making.
Dr Rhona Mahony, Master of the National Maternity Hospital, said: ‘The National Maternity Hospital is commencing the preparatory process for the building, design and construction of the new world-class hospital for women and infants, located on the Saint Vincent’s Campus.
‘As always, and true to the ethos that has helped our hospital for over 150 years, NMH will work in collaboration with the families, friends, patients and the medical and midwife community to ensure that this new hospital puts patient care and safety at its core.’
A new agreement between the HSE and St Vincent’s Healthcare Group is currently being finalised. It is due to be signed in the coming weeks.