Women should be able to terminate pregnancies within a week of seeing a doctor, new official guidelines state.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) also says patients should be able to self-refer to abortion clinics rather than see a GP first, if they prefer.
They could even be booked in for a termination without seeing a doctor in person if they choose a phone or video consultation instead.
Women should be able to terminate pregnancies within a week of seeing a doctor, new official guidelines state
The draft guidelines have been drawn up by the health watchdog and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists to speed up and improve access to abortion services.
But critics have accused health bosses of ‘rushing’ women into terminations and limiting medical supervision and support.
Dr Callum Miller, a medical doctor and research associate at the University of Oxford, said: ‘Self-referral, self-administration and less medical involvement in abortions is not an improvement in health services for women. Clearly, the absence of medical supervision for taking powerful drugs, often with great distress, is not an improvement in medical care.’
The draft guidance states routine follow-ups are not necessary for women following an abortion procedure.
Dr Miller said this was ‘especially concerning’, adding: ‘Mental health reviews have repeatedly stressed the need for screening for those at risk of negative mental health consequences from abortion. It is disappointing to see that such women are not offered psychological follow-up after such a traumatic event which appears to be associated with worse mental health outcomes.’
Current NHS rules stipulate that women should not have to wait more than a fortnight after their initial appointment for the procedure, although waiting times vary.
Two doctors must agree termination is ‘necessary’ to prevent ‘grave, permanent’ injury to the physical or mental health of the woman or child. Under the proposals, this legal requirement would not change, but could be done by phone.
Current NHS rules stipulate that women should not have to wait more than a fortnight after their initial appointment for the procedure, although waiting times vary
Letting women ‘self-refer’ to a clinic was also recommended as it ‘removes an unnecessary step in the process, allowing women to access treatment more quickly’, the guidelines suggest.
Under the new recommendations, women should undergo an assessment within a week of referral and have the abortion within the following seven days.
Paul Chrisp, of NICE, said: ‘Choosing to terminate a pregnancy is an important part of reproductive health for many women, which is why it’s essential providers are able to offer consistent support and advice.
‘Integrating and streamlining services should help improve access for all women, leading to shorter waiting times and allowing earlier terminations.’
But Clare McCarthy, of Right to Life, said women should be given more time to consider all the options available.
She said: ‘Simply rushing women through the abortion process does nothing to address the problems these women already face and would only later compound these issues if coupled with post-abortion regret.’
Consultation on the draft guidelines will close at the end of next month, with full guidelines expected in September.
Published: 00:01 BST, 12 April 2019 | Updated: 01:49 BST, 12 April 2019