Staff at Limerick’s Family Planning Clinic have expressed fears about the clinic’s continued ability to operate due to ongoing financial difficulties.
The Mallow Street centre, which has been serving women throughout the Mid-West for 36 years, has been forced to make two redundancies in recent months, and reduce the number of medical sessions available, while its 10 remaining staff have taken voluntary pay cuts.
The charitable organisation, which does not receive any Government funding, said they have been hit financially since the morning after pill became widely available in chemists earlier this year.
Furthermore, some 75% of their client base are medical card holders, resulting in a drop of income and they are continuing to operate on a financial deficit, even though they broke even last year.
“We have less cash coming in over the counter, because so many people need the medical card these days and it’s having a big knock-on effect to the clinic. This year has definitely been the worst financially. We are worried about how we’re going to keep it open and we have asked for assistance from the National Lottery, but are awaiting to hear back from them,” said Caroline Hayes, manager of the centre.
Assistant manager Anne McGlynn, who has worked there for 20 years, said they previously received a spike in calls on Monday morning from people seeking the morning after pill, but these calls have dwindled since its widespread availability.
“We are completely in favour of that because people are entitled to have the choice about where they get it, and it’s better to get it straight away if it’s needed rather than wait until Monday morning,” added Ms Hayes.
Ms McGlynn said all the staff are “passionate” about the clinic, and said “everyone would miss it, especially the women who have been coming here for years, if anything was to happen.”
Up to 3,500 clients use the service annually, and Ms Hayes said many people continue to travel from neighbouring counties due to its confidential nature, and as they are reluctant to speak to their own local GPs about some issues.
The centre has seen a rise in the number of people seeking STI tests (sexually transmitted infections), with two positive cases of HIV confirmed recently.
There has also been an increase in the number of parents bringing their 15 year-old daughters to the clinic for advice on contraception, the morning-after pill and STI tests. Dr Angela Kelly, who also works in the Mid-Western Regional Hospital, said there has been an increase in the number of people seeking tests in both centres.
The centre has also opened up its services to men, who have been availing of STI tests in particular.
The clinic officially opened its doors to the public on 14 February 1976 and was the first service of its kind in this region, serving Limerick, Clare, Tipperary and Kerry.
The late TD Jim Kemmy was among the activists who campaigned for the opening of the clinic.
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