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Simon Harris

Minister for Health Simon Harris is aiming to remove VAT from condoms and menstrual cups, and we want to squeeze him with hugs for life.

Harris called for a review of Ireland's tax approach on menstrual products and the barrier contraceptive ahead of last year's Budget, but no changes were carried out.

His position appears to be the same this year, and he'll be asking for VAT on these goods to be scrapped in October's Budget.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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The reduced rate of VAT of 13.5 percent applies to condoms at the moment, but the minister hopes to remove it entirely according to The Journal.

The Irish Pharmacy Union has also called for condoms to be VAT-free, with a pack of 12 condoms currently pricing at between €13 and €20.

Contraceptive gels for use with the barrier method also have a 13.5 percent rate applied. The oral contraceptive pill, the implant and injection currently have 0% VAT.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Harris wrote to Finance Minister Paschal Donohue about the work to reduce crisis pregnancies, saying that the VAT rates;

“Runs contrary to our work for people to practice safer sex and avoid crisis pregnancies and STIs”.

The letter  was released under the Freedom of Information Act, and states that the aim of the Sexual Health Strategy is to “improve sexual health and well being and to reduce negative sexual health outcomes”.

Harris writes in the letter that the cost of condoms could stop people buying them. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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The importance of using condoms is also to protect against STIs, including HIV, as well as contraception.

While he pointed out that consumer expenditure is widely subject to VAT, Harris claimed that “there is a strong case for excluding non-oral contraception from this tax”.

"Such a tax may inevitably discourage people from purchasing non-oral contraception due to cost concerns. This runs contrary to our work for people to practise safer sex and avoid crisis pregnancies and STIs. Both of these outcomes have a negative impact on the people concerned and their immediate family."

The health service loses out in the long run if STI rates are high, due to the cost "involved in treating people who contract HIV".

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Harris has also called for the VAT rate on sanitary products to be reduced to 0% also, such as the VAT rate of 23 percent on menstrual cups.

“The issue that now needs attention is the position with newer products. Newer products (e.g. menstrual cups) that were not available at the time of these agreements are subject to the standard rate of VAT 23 percent.

“There is a cogent argument for removing VAT on these and any newer sanitary products and aligning them with the zero-percent VAT rate applicable to tampons and sanitary towels,” he said.

The minister currently is attempting to overhaul the cost and availability of contraception in Ireland.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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The government announced that it hopes to increase free contraception nationwide, and Harris plans to reduce the cost of the morning after pill.

Last Monday, Harris announced that condoms would be distributed across third level colleges this year.

A public consultation is currently underway on how to increase access to contraception in the hopes to reduce abortion rates, STIs spreading and crisis pregnancies.

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Nearly 1,000 people in Ireland were treated in sexual-assault units in 2018, according to new data. 

This is a shocking increase of almost 10 percent in 2017, which is quite the jump. 20 children under the age of 14-years-old were treated after sexual assaults last year alone.

Ireland has six sexual-assault treatment units, where people may present themselves after an attack.

The sexual-assault treatment units are located in hospitals in Cork, Dublin, Galway, Mullingar, Waterford and Letterkenny.

There were 865 presentations at the six units in 2017, but this rose to 941 in 2018 according to the latest details released under the Freedom of Information Act.

In Mullingar Regional Hospital, 203 sex-assault victims were treated in 2018 alone, which is a worrying 17 percent increase.

Noeline Blackwell, the chief executive of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, isn't taken aback by the sharp increase across the nation.

"People are more ready to recognise that these are units which are specifically dedicated to dealing with victims of sexual assault," she said.

"You don't have to be referred there by the Gardaí, people don't even have to have an examination for court purposes there if they don't want to but they certainly will get the medical help that they need and a recognition of the trauma of the sexual assault as well."

The Dublin Rape Crisis Centre recently called for increased funding to deal with the "epidemic of sexual violence" in the country. In 2018, 13,949 people contacted the organisation.

This means that around 270 people per week contact the 24-hour helpline, with over 13,300 calls every year.

94 percent of people treated in Ireland's six units last year were women, with 6 percent being men.

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As Minister for Health Simon Harris launched the first ever Asthma Awareness Week today, the Asthma Society shared some scary statistics about the illness.

Asthma-related deaths are on the rise, with one person in Ireland losing their life every five days as a result of closed airways.

Worryingly, two out of every three people with asthma do not have an Asthma Action Plan and are therefore at risk of a potentially fatal asthma attack.

Society is now calling on those suffering with asthma to get an Asthma Action Plan. Research was conducted after the troubling recent figures for asthma deaths were published, and are still on the rise.

Only 63 percent of the 1,000 people surveyed knew there was a 5 Step Rule for managing an asthma attack, and two out of three people with asthma haven't spoken to their doctor in the last six months. Three out of five people with asthma also don't use their inhaler all year round.

90 percent of people with asthma don't carry an Asthma Attack Card with them at all times, and 20 percent wouldn't know the six most common symptoms of an asthma attack, according to the Asthma Management.

CEO of Asthma Society, Sarah O’Connor, said: 

“It is truly frightening that asthma deaths are on the rise in Ireland. The survey results showed that, in the event of an asthma attack, most people wouldn’t know the necessary steps to take to save a life (the 5 Step Rule). 470,000 people in Ireland have asthma and 60% do not have their asthma in control, greatly increasing the risk of suffering a fatal asthma attack."

UK research into asthma deaths showed that having an up-to-date Asthma Action Plan made it far less likely that a person would experience a fatal asthma attack. Through Asthma Awareness Week, it is hoped that people nationwide will put an Asthma Action Plan into place.

Minister for Health, Simon Harris, said: 

“I am strongly supporting the Asthma Society’s campaign today, encouraging people to take control of their asthma. Asthma management is extremely important. It allows people with the condition to live a longer, healthier and happier life. I encourage everyone to put an Asthma Action Plan in place – it is the one of the best asthma management tools available.

"People with asthma can work with their GP or asthma nurse or phone the Asthma and COPD Adviceline for help to create their personalised plan on 1800 44 54 64.”

People with asthma should carry an Asthma Attack Card with them at all times. which details the 5 Step Rule for managing an attack and the symptoms and can be given to a member of the public. This card also contains the person’s emergency details including their next of kin.

Asthma Awareness Week will continue until Friday. To support the Asthma Society, text BREATHE to 50300 to donate €4. 

The society's free advice line is 1800-44-54-64 and don't forget to check their website for more information on managing asthma.

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Minister for Health Simon Harris has confirmed the launch of a public consultation on increasing access to contraception.

Earlier in 2019, Harris created a working group to consider the policy, regulatory and legislative issues regarding improved access to contraception.

The Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment recommended access to free contraception, which the Minister has repeatedly claimed he hopes to achieve.

Image: RTÉ

Harris claimed he was aiming to give all women access to free contraception this year, and the public consultation will remain open until midnight on Monday, August 5 and is available on the Department of Health website

“Removing barriers to contraception in a key priority for me as Minister for Health,” Harris said.

“We have begun that work through the expansion of free access to condoms this year. This allows for expanded access to the groups most at risk, and within the youth sector, including third level facilities," he added.

Harris continued by emphasising the importance of public opinion in terms of informing the government and stakeholders on the issue.

“I would encourage all those with an interest to engage with the Department’s consultation before it concludes. It is our ambition to have the working group’s report concluded by September,” Harris said. 

The consultation responses will inform the working group's assessment of the problem, and should aid the group in making appropriate recommendations to the Minister.

The working group will investigate the extent to which cost is a barrier to getting reliable contraceptive options in this country.

Other factors influencing ease of access to contraception will hopefully also be addressed, such as financial barriers, legislative barriers, regulatory issues, and contractual issues. 

At the moment, women who have a medical card can gain free contraception. Without a medical card, the public have to pay for an initial consultation as well as a repeat appointment every six months for a renewal.

Options apart from the pill include the Implanon implant, or the Kyleena or Merina coil. Injections and a patch are other, less common options.

TheJournal.ie previously stated that Simon Harris has been lobbied by a pharmaceutical company and the pharmacy union in recent months, as plans for potential free contraception progress.

Feature image: RTÉ

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Botox and fillers for those under the age of 18 may soon be banned according to the Minister for Health.

Simon Harris claims the possible new restriction in theory would work similarly to the sunbed ban for minors.

According to Harris, certain companies and professionals are taking advantage of young people's desire for the perfect image, courtesy of social media sites like Instagram.

Doctors have also raised concerns about the increase in patients being admitted to hospitals following botched cosmetic procedures.

The Minister has requested that his officials assess the need to further regulate botox and fillers, such as a possible ban for minors. 

Concerns regarding filling material have also arisen, as it isn't categorised as a drug but as a medical device. This means that it can be bought online and used by someone without medical training.

Minister Harris expressed his concern over the consequences of this area going "unregulated or unsupervised".

A recent study by Therapie Clinic has shown that 68 percent of Irish people said that they already have or would consider getting a cosmetic procedure done.

In 2017, a teen health report showed that a shocking 72 percent of Irish young adults were experiencing body image issues. 

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Knowing what ingredients we are putting into our bodies is vital. 

Salt and sugar might add delicious flavour to our foods, but often processed foods in particular are laden with them, leading us to go above our recommended daily intake regularly. 

Lidl Ireland has today announced that over 850 of their own-brand products are currently being assessed for ways to reduce their salt and sugar intake. 

The affordable supermarket brand have pledged to create a 20% reduction in added sugar as well as reducing salt levels by the year 2020.

In their sugar reductions, the brand will be focusing on reducing levels in items targeted to or enjoyed by children.  

For salt, Lidl will focus on everyday meal items, including ready meals, soups, pizzas, crisps, cakes and meat products.

'The food and retail industry can make a positive contribution to the prevention of obesity, so it s important we work in partnership to achieve a reduction in the amount fat, salt and sugar in foods eaten regularly by consumers, said  Minister for Health Simon Harris, commending the move. 

'I want to commend Lidl for this initiative to reduce the sugar and salt content of many of their own brand products to help create a healthier food environment.'

'This is something I hope others will replicate.'

The positive contribution to the nations' health will aim to fall in with the UK's Food Standards Agency targets for salt reductions. 

The World Heath Organisation has found previously that the consumption of excess sugars can contribute to weight gain and obesity. 

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The healthcare crisis is escalating as the nurses and midwives remain on strike for another day this week.

The impact on tens of thousands of patients is causing chaos, as members of the public are asked not to use out of hours GP services as hundreds of doctors gather for a protest in Dublin.

News has since emerged that a rally will take place this Saturday, allowing members of the public to support the nurses and Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO).

Over 35,000 nurses and midwives voted overwhelmingly in favour of industrial action late last year, with their first 24-hour stoppage taking place on January 30 and second strike occurring yesterday.

The Facebook post reads; "Join the nurses' protest, called by the INMO, this Sat 12.30pm Parnell Square Dublin. Leo Varadkar and the Fine Gael led government are refusing to negotiate with the nurses."

It continues, "They are ignoring the huge public support for their legitimate claims. Most of us know that nurses deserve equality of treatment with other professional grades, better pay will help ease the recruitment crisis and that means better patient care in our hospitals."

"Nurses do not want to strike – they would prefer to care for their patients. We can help by turning our sympathy into a major display of solidarity." it concludes, calling on the public to text their numbers to join the rally at the Garden of Remembrance.

Further strike action is expected to take place on February 7, 12, 13, 14, 19, and 21, which is sure to affect a huge amount of patients.

Patients are being asked by the National Association of GP Co-ops to travel to emergency departments, or to wait to see their own GP if any ailment is experienced.

Other disruptions include the cancellation of outpatient appointments, non-urgent surgery, and respite, rehabilitation, and day centre services. An estimated 50,000 patients in the past week were affected.

Another strike is expected tomorrow, with up to 75,000 people likely to be affected. 

As of last night, there appears to be little hope of resolving the pay dispute, with the INMO accusing the Government of “recycling” ideas and calling on them to “come to the table unconditionally”.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar admitted that direct contact should have been made with nursing unions regarding further talks at the Workplace Relations Commission to resolve their dispute, instead of through a press release.

He responded to critique from  Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, who claimed the statement was an "appalling and a pathetic way" to approach the dispute.

Yesterday, the Fine Gael Government issued a statement saying it was willing to engage in talks on issues other than pay to try to overcome the nurses' strike.

General Secretary of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation Phil Ni Sheaghdha said the Government had not communicated directly with the unions.

Adult mental health services are also coming under huge strain today and tomorrow due to a ban on overtime, including night rosters, as members of the Psychiatric Nurses Association (PNA) engage in industrial action. 

Doctors will join the disagreement by heading to the Dáil to protest at conditions and pay cuts, which was organised by the National Association of General Practitioners.

Other aspects of the healthcare crisis involve a lack of beds, and the disastrous cost of the new National Paediatric Hospital, which sum now stands at €1.7 billion.

Feature image: Extra.ie

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 A 'Rats Out of the HSE' protest took place today outside the Department of Health's office in Dublin, following a leak of patient information.

The woman had legally obtained an abortion, but was then phoned and harassed by anti-abortion groups, according to TheJournal.ie

The protesters were calling for better protection of confidential patient information and for an external investigation to be launched after last week's data breaches.

Roughly 12 people took part in the protest at lunchtime, carrying placards and holding cut-out rat masks at Miesian Plaza.

A number of investigations were launched last week into the shocking claims.

A woman had an abortion at the National Maternity Hospital in Dublin, otherwise known as Holles Street, and was later verbally abused over the phone by a man who had somehow obtained her personal information.

On Friday, anti-abortion protesters stated that they were given information on when abortions were scheduled to occur at Our Lady Of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda.

Councillor Éilis Ryan of The Workers’ Party has said the HSE needed to clearly explain the steps it had taken to ensure that staff were providing abortion services in a trustworthy, fair and transparent manner.

"It doesn’t seem that any thought was put into how to change the culture of our hospitals to ensure people who might have anti-choice feelings themselves are not biased in how they carry out their healthcare provision”.

Her worry regarding the ability of our healthcare services to adapt without bias is felt by many.

Health Minister Simon Harris has admitted that an internal probe will take place, but “given the scale of scandals linking to the HSE in recent years we don’t feel that an internal investigation can be trusted or is sufficient”, according to Ryan.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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She feels that Gabriel Scally is trustworthy, after he carried out the Cervical Check screening programme review.

Simon Harris said on Friday  that it was “extraordinarily concerning and disturbing” that a patient’s details of her own abortion could possibly become public.

"The idea that anybody might leak a woman’s confidential information is reprehensible, it is grotesque, it’s disgusting and that is why I asked the HSE yesterday to investigate the matter and report back."

The HSE, the Dublin Well Woman Clinic, the National Maternity Hospital and the Data Protection Commissioner are apparently making inquiries regarding the apparent incident. 

Cover image: Twitter/@michelledevane

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Huge congratulations are in order for Simon Harris and his wife Caoimhe. The Minister for Health confirmed that they welcomed a gorgeous baby girl into the world.

The proud dad shared a series of images from the hospital and his darling girl is too cute for words. Just look at her little face.

Simon and Caoimhe looked as proud as punch as they cuddled up to their little girl in the heartwarming photos.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Simon gushed about becoming a parent for the first time: “Today I take on my most important job – Dad!”

“Caoimhe and I are delighted to welcome our beautiful little daughter into the world,” he gushed.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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The new dad added: “Name to follow! So happy. Who knew you could be so bowled over and blown away.”

People were quick to congratulate the doting parents who announced their pregnancy joy back in July.

One wrote: “Congratulations! She’s beautiful. Fun starts now.”

Another added: “Congratulations on the birth of your beautiful baby girl! Wonderful photos.”

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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“Congrats to you both Simon. Delighted for you. Hope Mum and baby girl are doing well,” one said.

Another replied: “Beautiful – congratulations Simon! Little baby & Leo Varadkar are birthday twins xx”

We couldn’t be happier for Simon and Caoimhe. We’re sure they’re going to pick the most perfect name for their tiny tot.

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There is an anti-abortion protest taking place outside Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda, Co Louth today.

Health Minister Simon Harris has spoken out against this at a press briefing, calling it ''quite sad.''

One of the protesters is Charles Byrne, who unsuccessfully challenged the outcome of the referendum on the Eighth Amendment.

He said that those protesting were a group of concerned citizens protesting because, “I deeply and profoundly care about the right to life of every human being…We are here because we believe hospitals need to be places of care through compassion.”

Minster Harris has also condemned a tweet leaking confidential information about an abortion due to take place today.

In response to a tweet from Economist Professor ray Kinsella, Simon said, ''I find it pretty darn despicable actually that somebody would take to social media – that anyone would take to social media and endeavour to create a public conversation about an individual patient's care.''

He continued, ''Any service that is provided legally here in our country deserves to be treated with absolute respect and the confidentiality of a patient must be to  the fore.''

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The helpline which was set up by the HSE to offer information on unplanned pregnancies to women was reportedly "busy but not overwhelmed" on it's first day yesterday.

The HSE set up the MyOptions helpline in order to act as the main referral path for women seeking abortion services.

On the first day of operation services available nationwide, 20 women sought an abortion according to GPs who have agreed to carry out the services.

The exact level of demand will not be known yet for another number of weeks.

The Irish Times reports that it will be next week at least until the first terminations can be carried out, as a result of the three-day 'cooling-off' period.

The first cases which were referred to doctors ranged from upwards of four weeks' gestation.

In terms of cases which are close to the 12-week limit, they will be facilitated with same-day appointments at the nearest maternity unit.

The flow of Irish women who are travelling to the UK for abortion services is expected to continue, though at a reduced level, as abortions over 12 weeks are not permitted under Irish law except under highly limited circumstances.

The Minister for Health will be notified of the amount of terminations performed within 28 days. 

A number of minor teething issues have arisen involving blood testing procedures and ultrasound provision.

Simon Harris has said;

“The level of preparedness varies, but the initial experience with the HSE’s helpline has been very positive."

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Dr. Rhona Mahony has pledged that women whose unborn babies have fatal foetal abnormalities will be offered terminations from January at the National Maternity Hospital.

As the hospital's master, Mahony made the claim after it came to light that some maternity hospitals and GPs won't be ready to begin extended abortion services from January.

A spokesman has said that staff are "working to ensure we have a full, safe and compassionate service in place as quickly as possible".

Dr. Mahony's spokesman continued;

"Notwithstanding the outstanding logistical issues, we expect to provide termination of pregnancy in situations of fatal foetal anomaly from January 1."

Minister for Health Simon Harris rejected implications that the January target for abortion services was aligned with politics, and has commented that this claim was 'offensive'.

He added that the services will not be available everywhere straight away, and that it needed time to embed and evolve with the help of clinicians. 

Yesterday, the Seanad continued with their debate on the Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy Bill.

Dr Sharon Sheehan, master of the Coombe hospital, has commented that her new system of service won't be ready by January.

She said; "To ensure the provision of "safe, high-quality, sensitive and compassionate care for women", it is essential to have the finalised legislation in place, an agreed model of care nationally and national clinical guidelines.

She continued;

"There has been extensive work, and that is continuing to proceed at a pace, but they are not ready and we now have only 20 days before this service is to be introduced.

"In my opinion, the country is not ready, and therefore the Coombe is not in a position to deliver these services from the January 1."

The Rotunda maternity hospitals spokeswoman commented that;

"Rotunda Hospital will be complying with enacted legislation providing the appropriate model of care, resources and funding is in place to enable a safe service provision to women".

The Irish Family Planning Association has also said that an exact date of availability for abortion services cannot yet be offered;

"We are still working on a number of outstanding issues. We're working to resolve them as quickly as possible and we're making good progress. We won't delay in providing abortion care once that's done".

The Irish College of General Practitioners and the Institute of Obstetricians are set to meet today for the discussion of clinical guidelines which are seen as essential for doctors.

A 24/7 helpline will hopefully be advertised by the HSE once the legislation is passed for guiding women, GPs and hospitals.

Feature image: BusinessPost.ie

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