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Abortions could be available in GP surgeries.

Byline: By Jane Kirby

The Government is considering making abortions available at GP practices.

The Department of Health confirmed it was looking at providing women with earlystage abortions using drugs in "nontraditional settings", including doctors' surgeries.

Although no decision has yet been made, two pilot studies are being carried out and an evaluation will be complete early next year.

In October, an influential group of MPs issued a report calling for women to be given easier access to abortions.

The Science and Technology Committee, which found no scientific justification for lowering the current 24-week legal limit, said women were experiencing unnecessary delays.

MPs called for the current requirement for two doctors to sign forms before an abortion could go ahead to be scrapped.

And they said nurses and midwives with suitable training and professional guidance should not be prevented from carrying out all stages of early medical abortions (involving the use of drugs) and early surgical abortions.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said today: "We have not taken any decision on whether to set up abortion services in GP practices or any other nontraditional settings.

"Two hospitals are currently being funded by the Department of Health to pilot early medical abortion services in non-traditional settings to evaluate effectiveness and safety.

"These current pilots have been running in hospital-based settings, not GP surgeries.

"We are formally evaluating the safety and effectiveness of providing early medical abortion services in non-traditional settings, which in future, could be a community medical setting such as a doctor's surgery which has the appropriate medical expertise.

"The evaluation will be complete in the New Year and we will consider the results carefully before reaching a decision."

Under the Abortion Act 1967, an abortion (surgical or medical) can only be performed in a hospital in an NHS trust, primary care trust or foundation trust or in an approved independent sector place, such as a private clinic.

Section 1(3A) of the act also gives the Health Secretary powers to approve another class of place to perform medical abortions, which which could enable them to be available in a wider range of settings.

This has not yet been used in England.

The GP newspaper, Pulse, detailed the proposals being considered by the Government.

Dr Fiona Cornish, a GP in Cambridge and vice president of the Medical Women's Federation, told Pulse that even liberal, prochoice GPs would not want to take on medical abortions because of time constraints.

"We're already doing minor surgery, a lot of hospital follow-ups, coils, family planning clinics," she said, adding: "No doubt there would be no extra funding."

Dr Nigel Dickson, a GP in Southampton said he was "sceptical" the Government would provide adequate resources and that GPs would need to access to specialists out-of-hours in case anything went wrong. Liberal Democrat MP Dr Evan Harris, who sat on the Science and Technology Committee looking into the issue, said: "There is no evidence to suggest that there are any safety or effectiveness problems with early medical abortion taking place in primary care settings if properly funded and appropriate back-up is provided. It is in the interests of easier access to earlier abortion that there should be no unnecessary restrictions on which medical establishments can provide safe and effective services."

Anne Weyman, chief executive of the Family Planning Association, said: "The FPA supports this initiative. Other countries provide abortion services in the community so why shouldn't British women have them too?

"Currently some women have to travel a long way to have an abortion so this would make them much more easily available.

"Waiting times would also be reduced as there would be more places where women could get an abortion."

But Dr Trevor Stammers, a GP and trustee of the Family Education Trust, said: "I have very grave reservations about the facilitation of abortions. I find that a lot of women who come to me are under extreme pressure to have abortions. About a third, on hearing about the support that is available to them, then elect not to have a termination.

"Making it easier means we are going to have more and more women who, with hindsight, are going to have deep regrets due to a rushed decision.

"It will then be only a matter of time before it will be possible to order abortion drugs on the internet. You have only got to follow the trajectory of Viagra - more people buy it on the internet than get it from their doctor. Women will then be faced with the total tragedy of having an abortion at home.
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Dec 5, 2007
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