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bpas welcomes results of CMO investigation

Published 19 September 2005

bpas welcomes results of CMO investigation

The public health minister Ms Caroline Flint has confirmed that the Department of Health has no reason to doubt that BPAS provides a good, safe and legal abortion service under the Abortion Act 1967 in a statement following the publication of an investigation by the Chief Medical Officer. The CMO had been asked by the Secretary of State to investigate bpas following allegations in the media that bpas had acted unlawfully by passing on details of clinics abroad able to provide legal abortions at gestations beyond 24 weeks.

bpas Chief Executive Ann Furedi said:

‘We welcome the confirmation that our service is lawful. We will read with interest the recommendations about our practices which have, in any case, been reviewed and modernised in the 10 months that we have been waiting for the publication of this report.’

‘We especially welcome the recommendation that a national best practice protocol for dealing with late abortion cases should be developed and be adopted by the NHS and all independent sector abortion providers The real scandal of late abortions is that many women are failed by the poor provision for late abortion that exists in many areas.’

The full text of the Department of Health’s statement is reproduced below

[Embargoed 0001 21 September 05]


BPAS DID NOT BREAK THE LAW - BUT INSUFFICIENT PROCEDURES FOR HANDLING LATE ABORTION CASES NEED TIGHTENING CMO ADVISES GOVERNMENT


The Chief Medical Officer's report into the handling of late abortion cases by the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) was published today by the Department of Health.

Following allegations by the Sunday Telegraph that BPAS was illegally sending women to Spain for late abortions, the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) was asked to investigate by the Secretary of State for Health.

Sir Liam Donaldson concluded that BPAS has not broken the law, but did identify the use of insufficient procedures in its handling of late abortion cases.

The CMO has criticised BPAS for giving out the number of the Spanish clinic too readily and not giving appropriate advice to women seeking a late abortion. The CMO has concluded that BPAS should urgently review the way they handle requests for late abortions. This includes:

revising their protocol for late abortion cases; reviewing training needs for staff; putting arrangements in place to ensure all calls concerning late abortions are passed to an experienced abortion counsellor; and setting up a system for monitoring the quality of advice given by its call centre staff.

BPAS has been asked to provide the CMO and the Department of Health with details of how they propose to implement these recommendations by the end of October 2005.

Following his investigation, the CMO concluded it is not in itself illegal to give out the contact details for overseas clinics. A woman is entitled to travel to another EU member state for an abortion.

The investigation has raised a number of important issues around access to abortion at all gestations, the training of staff in abortion service providers and the information available for women. As a result, the CMO has suggested a number of recommendations relevant to all abortion service providers. These include:

The development of a national best practice protocol for dealing with late abortion cases - to be adopted by the NHS and all independent sector abortion providers; All abortion service providers (including Primary Care Trusts) should review training needs for late gestation cases to ensure women are dealt with by appropriately trained staff and ensure that all staff involved in commissioning and providing abortion services are familiar with the provisions of the Abortion Act 1967; and Primary Care Trusts and abortion service providers should identify sources of delay in accessing abortion services and reorganise services so that all abortions can be carried out as early as possible. Primary Care Trusts should continue to work towards the performance indicator measuring the number of NHS funded abortions performed at under 10 weeks gestation.

Public Health Minister Caroline Flint said:

"I welcome these recommendations and am grateful to Sir Liam Donaldson for carrying out this thorough investigation. He has concluded that, on the evidence he has seen, BPAS has not committed an offence under the law and has therefore not broken the law."

"The Department of Health has no reason to doubt that BPAS provides a good, safe and legal abortion service under the Abortion Act 1967 and therefore sees no reason why it should not continue to provide this service to women nor why primary care trusts should withdraw any contracts they have with BPAS."

"We will now be working with the relevant professional organisations, the NHS and BPAS itself to ensure the Chief Medical Officer's wider recommendations are implemented. Progress will be monitored by the Department of Health and the Healthcare Commission."

"We have always made it very clear that any independent sector clinic wishing to perform abortions has to be approved by the Secretary of State for Health under the Abortion Act and registered with, and regularly inspected by, the Healthcare Commission. This continues to be the case and any failure to comply with the Abortion Act or Care Standards Act 2000 can lead to a withdrawal of approval at any time."

"The Chief Medical Officer has highlighted important areas where weak procedures need to be tightened up and we will ensure his recommendations are implemented. However, this does not mean the Government has any plans to change the law on abortion. It is accepted Parliamentary practice that proposals for amendments to the Abortion Act come from back bench members and that decisions are made on the basis of free votes."

[ENDS]

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