The topic of women’s healthcare in Ireland is admittedly a minefield. From reproductive services to the most simple of testing procedures, women are constantly overlooked. A prime example – the cervical cancer scandal of 2018, which devastated hundreds, possibly thousands of Irish people and yet, all cervical cancer samples from Irish women are being sent abroad for screening, despite promises by the government in the aftermath to increase capacity at home.
Promises are consistently broken when it comes to women’s healthcare in Ireland. From the 179 people who had to leave Ireland for an abortion since 2019, to the concerns of religious involvement in the new National Maternity Hospital, how can this country expect us to trust the healthcare system? After all, 9 out of 19 maternity units currently refuse to offer abortions.
In terms of more “everyday” health issues, it doesn’t get much better. It is estimated that 3 out of 4 women will experience thrush in their lifetime. Around two thirds will get a urinary tract infection (UTI) and one third will have a form of bacterial vaginosis. With such high incidences rates, you would expect the health system to have an abundance of information available with campaigns that highlight the importance of sexual health.
The opposite is the reality in Ireland today with little to no public awareness about sexual health and hardly any mention of them in the Social and Personal Health Education (SPHE) and Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) programmes. Women are often left in a spiralling panic, self-diagnosing themselves on the internet, unsure as to what is causing them pain or discomfort.
But where does this expectation of self-care come from? Why are Irish women expected to fix the system themselves? From every activist I’ve spoken to, all the way up to those involved with the National Women’s Council, it is clear that women in Ireland are expected to be carers, expected to be overly responsible and know everything about their bodies. But how can we be so informed when we are not taught that information in the first place?
The barriers to women’s healthcare in Ireland exist for even the most privileged of women, with the healthcare system consistently abandoning those in Direct Provision, in domestic abuse situations and those with unstable incomes. A standard GP visit can cost as much as 50 or 6o euro. Even on a monthly basis, this price can be too high for the average person – and it doesn’t even include a prescription.
Chronic illnesses such as endometriosis, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and adenomyosis require not just GP visits, but painkillers and consultations. Currently, the average time for being diagnosed with endometriosis in Ireland is nine years. Nine years of appointments, pain relief and hoping that your condition won’t interfere with your job or education. Endometriosis alone affects as many as one in ten women.
And all these issues are just the tip of the iceberg.
I haven’t even discussed the wild side effects of hormonal birth control like the contraceptive pill, or the fact that IUD coils are inserted into the womb without anaesthetic. Hopefully, the Department of Health delivers on its promise to provide free contraception for women aged 17-25 by August, but at the end of the day, this plan has been teased for three years. The idea of not paying for a prescription or a GP appointment to assess your options will be a financial relief to thousands of women but it needs to be the first step in many to dramatically overhaul our healthcare system.
No more broken promises. The women of Ireland deserve a lot more than this.