Exclusive: PCTs push for in-practice abortions this spring

PCTs are pushing ahead with plans to offer abortions in surgeries and polyclinics from as early as this spring, GP can reveal.

Photograph: iStockphoto
Photograph: iStockphoto

Under the 1967 Abortion Act, an abortion can only be performed in a hospital or approved private sector clinic.

However, Section 1(3a) of the act gives the health secretary powers to approve abortions in primary care.

Last year, a DoH pilot study found that women could safely receive early medical abortions (EMAs) in community settings, paving the way for PCTs to develop abortion services.

Responding to a Freedom of Information Act request, Hampshire PCT confirmed that it is currently applying for a licence to provide EMAs.

If successful, the service is expected to start this spring and would be based in a GP practice in Basingstoke.

Hounslow PCT in south west London said it was exploring the idea of providing medical terminations at the Heart of Hounslow polyclinic.

Sandwell PCT in the West Midlands also plans to invite bids for ‘a primary care-based medical termination service’ later this year.

‘The service will be within the family planning clinic based in a polyclinic,’ a spokesman confirmed.

Kirklees PCT in west Yorkshire, Islington PCT in north London and Somerset PCT also expressed an interest in providing abortions in primary care.

Dr Trevor Stammers, chairman of the Christian Medical Fellowship and a GP in south London, warned that the move would lead to an increase in the number of abortions.

‘It is ironic that this move comes at a time when the damaging psychological effects of abortion are becoming increasingly clear to all.

‘I will certainly be forced to resign from practice if the PCT compels any building in which I practice to carry out abortions. I will not be alone in doing this.’

But Ann Furedi, chief executive of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, said: ‘It is about time this happened. EMAs are in great demand and are the method of abortion that women want to use.

‘It’s about making access to abortions easier and more convenient, not about increasing the number of abortions.’
 
She added: ‘There has been a lot of talk for several years about the possibility of GPs providing EMAs locally.

‘The secretary of state has the power to approve a class of place. It is surprising that 19 years on from when this power was granted, we have yet to see it happen.

‘It is important that when commissioners plan abortion services they do not just think about the medication.

‘Women respond very differently to EMAs, some will have severe bleeding and cramping.

‘One of the challenges is to provide women with the support they require. They should have access to a 24-hour helpline staffed by people with knowledge of abortion.’

It would make absolute sense for a GP practice to work in partnership with an abortion provider, she said.

A spokeswoman for the DoH said that work was ‘progressing in this area’ and that the department would be ‘consulting on this further with stakeholders and service users early this year’.

sanjay.tanday@haymarket.com

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