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Last Updated: Monday, 22 January 2007, 14:18 GMT
Seven week wait for NHS abortion
By Yvonne Murray
BBC News

Doctor consultation
Waiting for an abortion can be highly distressing
Women are having to wait up to seven weeks for an abortion, more than twice the maximum three week wait set by the government, the BBC has learned.

The long waits have been linked to the current financial difficulties faced by some NHS trusts.

One west London GP told the BBC's World At One programme some of his patients had to wait until they were 15 weeks pregnant before having an abortion.

The government said responsibility lay with local primary care trusts.

In the early stages of pregnancy an abortion can be performed using hormone treatment.

For someone to want to have termination, and then to be left in the wings without help, advice or counselling is inhumane
Nadine Dorries
Conservative MP

However, the procedure is more involved when the pregnancy is more advanced. It might involve the use of a general anaesthetic, and has a greater risk of complications.

One 33-year-old woman was told she would have wait five weeks for an abortion.

"It was a time in my life when I felt so bad about myself, and the support that I needed from the NHS just was not there.

"It just compounded all the feelings that I had that I was being punished, and I deserved to be punished, almost that I should not expect a fast or efficient service, or even a kindly service."

The Department of Health wants 70% of all terminations to be carried out under 10 weeks gestation.

According to its latest figures - from 2005 - the majority of abortions did take place within this time limit.

But the data revealed large regional discrepancies, with the worst performing PCTs carrying out only just over a third of terminations within 10 weeks.

Julie Douglas, of Marie Stopes International, which carries out abortions for the NHS, said the situation had improved - but there were still black-spots.

She said: "There are a number of PCTs that are really not meeting national standards."

Conservative MP Nadine Dorries introduced a bill last year aimed at reducing the abortion time limit.

But she agrees that women should not be kept waiting for an abortion once they have made up their mind.

"For someone to want to have termination, and then to be left in the wings without help, advice or counselling is inhumane."

Money must be spent

Dr Michael Dixon, chairman of the NHS Alliance, which represents primary care trusts, said six to seven week waits for an abortion were "absolutely unacceptable."

It is in nobody's interests to keep women waiting
Dr Howard Stoate
Labour MP

He said most PCTs were performing well, but there were pockets which had problems.

"What I think is happening is that PCTs have contracted for a given number of terminations to be done, and it seems that more terminations are being requested by local GPs than expected.

"Clearly the answer is for those PCTs to increase the number of terminations they are going to pay for. That will cost them money, but that is money that they need to spend."

The Department of Health said it was up to PCTs to organise local abortion services, but said it had invested 8million to help them achieve the three-week target.

Dr Howard Stoate, Labour MP, still a practising GP, and member of the Health Select Committee, said the overall picture was "pretty good".

"There are pockets where clearly the situation is not as good as it should be.

"It is in nobody's interests to keep women waiting, and it is quite unacceptable for PCTs to breach the three-week limit set by the government."


SEE ALSO
Why are abortion rates so high?
15 Sep 06 |  Health

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