Responding to the Government’s statement on the future of telemedicine abortion services in England, Dr Zoe Greaves, BMA medical ethics committee chair, said:
"The Government's decision to end the option of telemedicine abortion from August in England puts the wellbeing and safety of women at risk. Telemedicine has improved the clinical safety of abortion services by reducing waiting times and by ensuring that difficulties women experience in accessing services do not delay care. Those most affected by this change will be those who are at greatest risk of harm, including women who are victims of sexual violence or domestic abuse, and the financially vulnerable. It is a decision which puts politics before women’s health.
"Yesterday medical bodies and service providers wrote to the Government to request that at-home abortion care should continue to be an option available to women alongside in-person appointments, citing evidence showing that there is no medical reason as to why this should not remain a permanent service. Even before the pandemic, the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence supported providing a telemedicine abortion service. Since the practice became legal during the pandemic, the largest-ever study of abortion care in the UK found that introducing a telemedicine service for abortion shortened waiting times for treatment and increased the safety of abortion services by allowing women to receive care much earlier in their pregnancy.
"Just last year the Government’s Vision for Women’s Health promised to ‘reset the dial’ by listening to women’s voices and yet inexplicably, this decision goes against what women think is best for their health. Recent research found that 83% of women who used a remote consultation for an early medical abortion found it ‘very acceptable’ and 89% would opt to have treatment at home again if they needed another abortion. The service is a lifeline for women in vulnerable situations who may struggle to attend a clinic in person, widening existing health inequalities. Removing it as an option for abortion care will have a disproportionate impact on some women – including those with caring responsibilities, victim-survivors of sexual violence and domestic abuse, and those on low income or in insecure work.
"Requiring every woman to return to a clinic for care could lead to a rise in unregulated pills being bought online and it would make the service less efficient, wasting valuable NHS resources. If the Government does go ahead with this decision, there will be consequences for women’s health. While telemedicine isn’t right for everyone and we still need clinics for women who choose a face-to-face appointment or because of clinical or social factors, there is no medical justification for banning telemedicine services. We urge the Government to reconsider this decision in light of the overwhelming evidence which shows that allowing women to access early medical abortion at home, where clinically appropriate, has created a safer and more effective service."
Notes to editors
The BMA is a professional association and trade union representing and negotiating on behalf of all doctors in the UK. A leading voice advocating for outstanding health care and a healthy population. An association providing members with excellent individual services and support throughout their lives.