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Sunday, 4 November, 2001, 02:52 GMT
Abortion services 'failing'
Pregnant women have variable access to abortion services across the country
Pregnant women have variable access to abortion services across the country
A third of abortion centres failed to reach ideal standards for services, a report has said.

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists has published an audit of abortion services in England and Wales.

It assessed how providers inside and outside the NHS were performing prior to the publication of the RCOG's guidelines on abortion services published in March 2000.

The audit, which surveyed 230 units - covering 71% of abortion providers, aimed to find out how many were already meeting the targets in 1999.

This audit has highlighted some failings in the provision of abortion services

Professor Allan Templeton, RCOG
It found 34% failed to meet the target for women to see a gynaecologist within five days of first seeing a doctor, and should have the abortion within seven days of deciding to go ahead.

The RCOG say that is their 'ideal' target.

The Department of Health says by 2005, the minimum standard should be that women who meet the legal requirements should have access to an abortion within three weeks of their first appointment with a doctor.

The RCOG also found 33% of units failed to offer both early surgical and early medical abortions to women in the first nine weeks of their pregnancy, as the guidelines recommend.

In addition, one in four units did not have an acceptable policy for screening for infective complications.

The audit also looked at additional services, including information provision and pre and post-abortion management.

Common procedure

The RCOG said it was "encouraged" that 66% of units were aware of its guidelines and were working to them.

Around 180,000 induced abortions are carried out every year in England and Wales, making it one of the most commonly performed gynaecological procedures.

At least a third of British women will have had an abortion by the time they are 45.

The audit reflects the situation in late 1999 and it is likely that practice will have improved since then

Department of Health spokeswoman
Over 98% of abortions are carried out because they threaten the mental or physical health of the woman or her children, according to the RCOG.

Experts say women's access to abortion services varies considerably depending on where they live.

In 1997, 19 of 105 English and Welsh health authorities funded 90% of more of procedures, with 48 funding less than 75%.

Failings highlighted

Professor Allan Templeton, chair of the RCOG guideline and audit group, who wrote the report said: "This audit has highlighted some failings in the provision of abortion services. Some parts of the country appear to be providing a good service, although not always within the NHS.

"The decision to go ahead with an abortion is never an easy one for a woman.

"It is vital that women have equitable access to the necessary information and services to help aid their decision-making.

Professor Templeton said there needed to be wider implementation of the college's guidelines, but he welcomed their inclusion in the government's sexual health strategy.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said: "The audit reflects the situation in late 1999 and it is likely that practice will have improved since then.

"We are pleased to see that there is a good awareness of the RCOG guidelines and that they are generally being followed."

'Realistic picture'

Ann Furedi, of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service said the audit painted a realistic picture of abortion services in the UK.

She added that it highlighted the gap between current services and government targets: "It shows how far behind we are in being able to provide that service at this time - and it shows how far we've got to go."

Anne Weyman, Family Planning Association chief executive, said: "It's vital women have equal access to abortion services wherever they live, they deserve no less.

"The current differences in service provision are unacceptable."

Jack Scarisbrick, national chair of LIFE, the pro-life charity, said it was "lamentable" that the RCOG wanted abortions carried out "faster, with no cooling off period".

He added the college should be mindful of the health effects of abortion on the woman.

The BBC's Branwen Jeffreys
"The quality of treatment is a lottery"
See also:

05 Nov 01 | Health
Abortion services 'need overhaul'
21 Aug 01 | Health
Abortion Act 'discriminatory'
14 Mar 00 | Health
Call to improve abortion access
07 Feb 00 | Health
Women 'denied abortion choice'
29 Aug 00 | Health
'Abortion causes foetal pain'
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