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UK Government Telemedicine Consultation: our response and recommendations

18 January 2021 Comment Blog

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    London, 18th January 2021

    The government is now seeking views on whether to make the choice of telemedicine permanently available. We strongly support the retention of telemedicine abortion as an option after the COVID-19 pandemic is over.

    In this blog we explain why. 

    Why is the UK government consulting on telemedicine

    During the COVID-19 pandemic the government put in place a temporary measure in England, enabling women and girls to take both pills for early medical abortion (EMA) in their own homes up to 10 weeks’ (9 weeks and 6 days) gestation.

    This is often referred to as ‘telemedicine.’

    Medical abortion requires taking two pills. Before the pandemic, only the second pill could be taken at home. This meant that it was always necessary to attend a clinic, hospital or GP practice in person to take the first pill.

    The choice of early medical abortion (EMA) at home for those who are clinically eligible has made abortion more accessible, has reduced waiting times, and has allowed safe, remote abortion access via formal, regulated providers, reducing the need to purchase abortion pills online from alternative sources.

    The government is now seeking views on whether to make the choice of telemedicine permanently available.

    The good news

    Telemedicine was successfully introduced, which allowed abortion, which is an essential service, to safely continue during the pandemic.

    The bad news

    This temporary improvement to abortion access is currently due to be taken away again after two years, or when the pandemic is over ‒ whichever is earliest.

    Consultation objectives

    The policy objectives of this consultation are to understand the:

    • impact and experience of the temporary measure
    • benefits of making the temporary measure permanent
    • risks of making the temporary measure permanent
    • evidence base for making the temporary measure permanent.

    It is not a consultation on any other aspect of abortion law. The consultation will close at 11:59pm on 26 February 2021.

     

    Summary of our response and recommendations

    MSI UK’s experience of providing telemedicine in England has shown the current arrangements to be safe, to be convenient, to be more accessible and to have reduced waiting times. We strongly support the retention of telemedicine abortion as an option after the COVID-19 pandemic is over.

    • Our research and experience found no evidence to suggest that telemedicine increases significant adverse events (which we define as ectopic pregnancies, haemorrhaging requiring transfusion, infection requiring hospital admission, major surgery, or death).
    • There have been no deaths or serious incidents for any MSI UK clients (nor, as far as we know, for any other provider’s patients) as a result of telemedicine.
    • There is no clinical requirement for every single person seeking an abortion to have a scan; this is not a requirement for those continuing with a pregnancy, and there is no clinical reason why those who choose abortion should be treated differently.
    • There are robust safeguarding measures in place for telemedicine abortion, and indeed telemedicine is preferred by and safer for many of our most vulnerable clients, including those in abusive or coercive households, and those who are marginalised on account of one or more protected characteristic.
    • Many of the same objections we are hearing now in relation to telemedicine were expressed when the government allowed the second pill (misoprostol) to be taken at home, back in 2018. None of the fears expressed at the time have come to pass.
    • We are not recommending that telemedicine completely replace the previous pathway; it is very important for multiple reasons that there is a choice of methods available, depending upon what is right for each person clinically, logistically and emotionally.

     

    How you can help  

    The government is now seeking views on whether to make the choice of telemedicine permanently available.  

    By responding to the consultation, you can help keep the option of telemedicine available permanently.   

    Follow this link to read our guide on how to respond to the consultation.​ 

    Follow this link to submit your response: Home use of abortion pills for early medical abortion - UK Gov consultation.

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