Ukrainian women who moved to State since 2022 having difficulty accessing sufficient medical support, notes study – The Irish Times

A study of more than 675 Ukrainian women who have moved to Ireland since 2022 found nearly half of respondents did not feel they had sufficient medical support, while more than 60 per cent reported poor access to dental care.

The research was carried out by Dr Iryna Mazhak, a Ukrainian medical sociologist who moved to Ireland in 2023 as part of the Scholars at Risk programme. Dr Mazhak is a visiting research fellow at the Royal College of Surgeons Ireland.

The survey data also indicated that small numbers of Ukrainian woman refugees are returning to Ukraine for medical and dental procedures because of “barriers” and “misunderstandings” within the Irish health system.

Her study into the healthcare needs and coping strategies of Ukrainian woman refugees follows similar research carried out in Czechia.

The Irish leg of the study was carried out in late 2023 through online surveys with 656 women and face-to-face interviews with 23 women. Participants were on average 38 years old, most had university degrees and were in paid employment before the war and 40 per cent travelled to Ireland with their children.

The study found most Ukrainian women struggled to understand the Irish health system. Long waiting lists and inability to access “medical tests, scans, diagnostics and medicine only being available on prescription” created a culture of “medical tourism”, with one-fifth of those interviewed in person returning to Ukraine for procedures, according to the research. Those interviewed online were not asked about medical tourism, but this question will form part of follow-up research, according to Dr Mazhak.

Not speaking English also created a “significant barrier” for women to communicate with nurses or doctors, says the study. Some 37 per cent reported their emotional and physical health was “bad” or “very bad”, while more than half reported suffering from moderate or severe depression.

Cultural barriers, an inability to find a job and caring for children all contributed to these mental health struggles, according to the research. Many participants lived and worked in cities before the war and struggled to adapt to life in rural areas, it adds.

Nearly half of women said they did not have access to sufficient medical care, while 63 per cent said they could not access proper dental care.

Nearly three-quarters of women had registered with a GP but 13 per cent reported they had “lost hope of finding one”.

Some 46 per cent reported “insufficient levels of psychological support”, compared to just 25 per cent among Ukrainian women in Czechia.

Viktoria*, who took part in a face-to-face interview and arrived in Ireland with her five-year-old daughter in 2022, returned to Ukraine in April to complete complex dental treatment which began before the war.

“I couldn’t go to [Irish] public clinics because they don’t do that amount of work and didn’t have enough money for a private clinic,” she said via an interpreter. Shortly before leaving on the trip with her daughter, Viktoria learned her Irish host family could no longer provide accommodation. “We started looking for temporary housing but no one wanted to take in a single mother with a young child, despite the fact that I worked part-time and my daughter was at school.”

Vikotria says she is uncertain whether she can return to Ireland in light of State changes in Ukrainian refugee support. However, a Department of Justice spokesman confirmed a person who leaves the State “temporarily will still have their temporary permission and are entitled to return”.

Like other women in the study, Viktoria suffers from depression. “When you are a single mum with a small child in a foreign country, with minimal knowledge of the language, and all the responsibilities, health, safety, school, it is very difficult to handle it alone without support. You have no right to make a mistake.

“At the same time, you are worried about your relatives who stayed in Ukraine where the war is ongoing. You don’t know if you will see them, if they are alive and healthy, if they will have a tomorrow, or if we will have a place to go back to, if there will be a Ukraine.”

A total of €124 million has been spent on refugees and migrant healthcare provision since 2022, including support for 107,000 Ukrainian refugees, according to a Health Service Executive statement. Services offered include health assessments, catch-up immunisation clinics and additional GP clinics in areas with limited capacity.

A dedicated HSE website, translated into Ukrainian and Russian, also provides information on GPs, hospital or emergency services, children’s health services, mental health services, pregnancy services and others, said the HSE. Free counselling for Ukrainians is also provided with access to Ukrainian mental health professionals, it added.

*requested not to share her surname

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