UK facing crisis point in abortion provision, experts say Health

Experts say the UK is facing a “crisis point” in abortion provision, with rising demand and limited access to care in many areas putting unprecedented pressure on struggling NHS services.

Healthcare professionals described a “horrific” situation in which women are traveling hundreds of miles for appointments or waiting weeks before being seen.

Dr Jonathan Lord, director of MSI Reproductive Choice UK, a leading provider of abortion services, told the Guardian Today In Focus podcast: “There is no doubt we are seeing absolutely unprecedented levels of demand at the moment. All providers are reporting that they are busier than ever.”

Lord, who is also an NHS consultant gynaecologist, said the increase was being driven by “the economic downturn, the cost of living crisis and the ability to access good quality contraception” through GPs and sexual health services, which have been widely affected. NHS crisis.

Claire Murphy, chief executive of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), previously said: “The pandemic and the policies adopted by the government have had a clear impact on women’s pregnancy choices.” Faced with “economic uncertainty and job insecurity”, women were forced to take tough decisions, she said.

A record 214,869 abortions will take place in England and Wales in 2021, according to government figures. According to new figures seen by the Guardian, MSI treated 47% more people in the first two weeks of this year than the same period in 2022, and offered 51% more phone consultations.

MSI, which has more than 60 clinics across England and Wales, says it is only managing to keep waiting times steady due to staff working extra shifts and at weekends. The number of surgical abortion appointments has been increased by 38% to meet the demand.

A report by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, published in November, said that inadequate funding of commissions and services for abortion care resulted in poor standards of care for women and “marked variations across the UK, with women in many areas having access to abortion”. being denied.” rights they should expect from the NHS constitution”.

The problem has been exacerbated by chronic staff shortages and the closure of sexual health services during the pandemic. Increased demand in the private sector is increasing pressure on NHS services, with only five UK trusts offering specialist surgical abortion services.

Murphy said: “What we are seeing now is the culmination of a series of long-standing pressures that the service has been under for many years. But the pandemic and the current enormous pressure on the NHS have brought things to a crisis point. She said that while talks with the commissioners were ongoing, the BPAS was considering closing some abortion centres.

Tracey Masters, who works at Homerton University Hospital in east London, one of just five NHS trusts to offer specialist surgical abortion services, said her clinic was receiving more referrals in the past six months than the independent sector The waiting time had increased. “It can be really painful, and we’re seeing women who are waiting weeks and weeks for care,” she said.

Nicola (not her real name) traveled over 500 miles to Homerton due to a lack of availability for an appointment in her local area. “I was in tears on the phone. There was no space at the hospital closest to me, and the hospital that was two hours away from me was unable to see me because of how far away I was. So I was booked over three hours away,” she said.

An NHS spokesperson said: “There has been an increase in demand for abortion services recently, and as a result NHS England is currently consulting on updated payment guidance for local commissioners to ensure they can provide these services.” continue in the most effective manner and to the highest clinical standards.

A spokesman for the Department of Health and Social Care said: “The government recognizes there is more work to be done to improve women’s reproductive health. Plans for sexual and reproductive health will be set out later this year, including ensuring including that women can continue to access strong and high-quality abortion services.”

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