The Minister for Health has said that he does not believe that there is sufficient access to abortion services across the country.

Stephen Donnelly was appearing before the Oireachtas Health Committee as he launched a review into abortion legislation.

The review will take into account the views of service users, providers and also members of the public.

An independent chair will be appointed early next year to lead the review.

The review is provided for in the "Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Act", which came into at the start of 2019.

It states that a review must take place within three years of the law coming into force.

Asked by Fine Gael's Bernard Durkan if the act was operating in accordance with original intentions, Mr Donnelly said that he does not want to pre-judge the outcome of the review.

However, Mr Donnelly did tell the committee that "certainly we can point to a huge reduction in women leaving the country and so that objective to a greater or lesser extent has been achieved".

"Have we achieved broad geographic coverage; I would say no," he added.

There were 375 women who travelled to the UK in 2020, according to the Principal Officer in the Department of Health, Geraldine Luddy.

She explained that there were many reasons for this, including cases where there was a "foetal anomaly that wasn't fatal and also for women who were over 12 weeks' pregnant".

Minister Donnelly said that he was not currently satisfied with the "ease of access that is required" in Ireland and he said that he hopes that the review will help address those problems.

Ten maternity hospitals are providing full abortion services, while nine are providing partial services, Sinn Féín's health spokesperson David Cullinane was told.

Mr Cullinane asked if discussion on the repeal of the three-day waiting period would be part of the review. Minister Donnelly said that it would be within the scope of the review "if it is causing operational difficulties".

Meanwhile, Co-leader of the Social Democrats Róisín Shortall also pressed the minister on the likelihood of policy changes after this review.

"The standard thing ... when it comes to a review, is that you review the operation and any policy changes that are recommended, that arise on foot of the review. Are you open to that?", she asked the minister.

Minister Donnelly told Ms Shortall that all views will be heard and changes to policy will be considered.

"The entire point of this review is to listen to the women themselves, to the service providers and to the public, with a view to seeing what changes may be required," he said.

In his opening statement, Minister Donnelly told members that the review seeks to monitor the "impact, operation, and effectiveness of the legislation in practice, as well as of the delivery of services in the area".

Chair of the Committee, Sinn Féin's Seán Crowe, was told by Mr Donnelly that the review will have two phases.

The first involves a "very broad consultation" and the second phase will see the chair of the review "collate and analyse that work" and provide recommendations.

Mr Donnelly said that he hopes that a report will be submitted by "summer or autumn" of 2022.

However, he added that he does not want to be too prescriptive on a deadline in order to give "flexibility" to the chair of the review.