Commissioners and providers should make it easier for women to access pregnancy termination services, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has proposed.
This includes allowing women to self-refer to abortion services and ensuring that specialist centres are accessible as locally as possible to reduce delays.
The proposals are part of draft abortion guidelines developed jointly by NICE and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG).
Commissioners, providers and healthcare professionals are invited to submit their feedback until 31 May 2019.
However, according to charity Right to Life, which campaigns against abortion, the draft guidance would if implemented result in rushing women through the abortion process and reduce the medical support available.
Points of particular concern to the charity included the suggestion to offer abortion consultations over the phone or via video call, rather than face to face, if the woman prefers.
The guidance suggests that commissioners and providers should ‘make information about termination of pregnancy services widely available’ without requiring women to have ‘compulsory counselling or compulsory time for reflection before the termination of pregnancy’.
NICE said that women should be promptly referred to another service if the one they approached cannot terminate the pregnancy ‘by the woman’s preferred method’.
Commissioners and providers should work together to ensure abortion clinics can deliver the service ‘with minimal delay’, making sure women receive an assessment within one week of their original request and that the termination is performed within a week of the assessment.
Commissioners should also cover travel and accommodation costs for women who ‘are eligible for the NHS Healthcare Travel Costs Scheme or need to travel to a service that is not available locally’.
Benefits to women
NICE director of the Centre for Guidelines Paul Chrisp said: ‘Integrating and streamlining services should help improve access for all women, leading to shorter waiting times and allowing earlier terminations.
‘This provides multiple benefits to the woman, including being able to have a medical termination at home.’
RCOG president professor Lesley Regan said these guidelines will remove the barriers women can face when accessing these services.
Just under 193,000 terminations were performed in 2017, according to NICE.
However, anti-abortion campaigner Right to Life fears the new guidance will lead to an increasing number of abortions and called the guidance a ‘reckless approach to healthcare’.
It argued that the guidelines should instead look into the reasons women ‘seek out abortion services in such high numbers in this country’.