The HSE’s launch of a free service providing prescription and emergency contraception for 17 to 25-year-olds has been welcomed by Dr Eoin Mac Donnacha, the Director of the Student Health Unit at the University of Galway.
He said: “I think that it is a fantastic scheme. It is a revolutionary step in Irish healthcare services and public health services in relation to reproductive health.
“We would, as doctors and as a practice, greatly welcome the new scheme,” he added.
Age range and financial difficulties
However, questions arose in relation to the age bracket chosen at the time of the scheme being announced in last year’s Budget by the Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly.
Dr Mac Donnacha explained that although the age range is narrow, he believes the government is focusing on the group of greatest need. The scheme targets an age range which tends to have the greatest financial difficulties.
“The huge increase in the cost of living is affecting the community and the public. There are even greater financial pressures on the young population due to commitments to their studies and part-time jobs,” he noted.
In comparison, there would be“smaller costs to people who are maybe established, older and employed in proportion to the younger people”.
Hopes for expansion in Budget 2023
People who are 17-25 years old can avail themselves of this free service. However, Alana Ryan, Women’s Health Coordinator of the National Women’s Council, said: “Some women are sexually active before the age of 17, and long after the age of 25.
“It’s crucial that Government follows this excellent first step up with widening of the age bracket in the budget at the end of the month,” she emphasised.
Dr Mac Donnacha explained that ideally, the scheme will be extended if the resources are there.
“I hope that the government would give consideration to expanding it especially after seeing the success,” he said.
The Health Unit at the University of Galway has seen a rise in student interest since the launch of the scheme.
Mac Donnacha highlighted: “From the first day the scheme was launched, we saw a big spike in students contacting us. Already within the space of a week or so, there has been a significant rise.”
He believes that free consultations will also open an opportunity for engagement around sexual health advice and other related issues.
To find out more about the scheme, visit the HSE website.
More Galway news here.