HC Deb 19 July 1977 vol 935 cc401-2W
54. Mr. Willey

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what is his policy regarding the conclusions of the Second Report from the Select Committee on Abortion 1975–76.

Mr. Moyle

On the first recommendation in the Second Report of the Select Committee on Abortion 1975–76—that an advisory committee on research and counselling on abortion be appointed—I believe that the intentions behind this recommendation are fully covered by my Department's existing arrangements for research sponsorship. These include a research liaison group, which is a joint committee of members of my Department and outside expert advisors, specifically responsible for sponsoring research into reproduction and allied services and advising on the policy implications of completed research. Research into various aspects of abortion is a high priority for the group and because it covers the whole of the reproduction field the group is able to offer expert advice and sponsorship over a wide range of factors which affect abortion. My Department is issuing a circular to health authorities later this week recommending that authorities review the needs for training in abortion counselling. Funds have been made available centrally to help support local pilot projects designed to meet these needs.

The Select Committee recommended secondly that the Chief Medical Officer's letter—on procedures for appointment in specialties related to abortion—be withdrawn and that new provision be made regarding conscientious objection, particularly in respect of training procedures for nurses. The Joint Consultants' Committee, which represents those affected by the letter, has presented a report to the Chief Medical Officer, detailing its views on the letter and recommending that certain changes should be made. Full consideration will be given to the report and to the wider issues involved, although the evidence I have does not lend any support to the Select Committee's view that there is a widespread or serious problem either in consultant or nursing appointments.

The third recommendation was that experimental units specialising in abortion work should be set up in local hospitals and evaluated. I recognise that there are unacceptable disparities in the abortion services provided by regions and the proportion of total abortions which are performed in the National Health Service is not as high as I would wish. I therefore fully share the Select Committee's concern that NHS facilities should be extended so that women entitled to have an abortion should be able to obtain it without being compelled to pay for it. I am not convinced that the establishment of separate in-patient units, even on an experimental basis, is the right answer, but there is certainly scope for expansion of day-care units in which it is easier to arrange services so that the susceptibilities of patients and staff with objections to abortion can be met. But I agree with the view of the Lane Committee, which is shared by the medical profession, that abortion should be kept within the mainstream of gynaecology and continue to be regarded as part of the comprehensive medical and social care of women.

My Department is assisting a regional health authority in its evaluation of its services and of possibilities for their expansion. When sufficient progress has been made with this survey I shall be discussing the problem generally, and the Select Committee's recommendations in particular with chairmen of regional health authorities.

Finally, the Select Committee recommended that pilot studies should be made into the cost effectiveness of the provisions for the termination of pregnancy in the NHS. It is difficult to obtain accurate costings of NHS treatment for specific conditions but I accept this recommendation in principle and have asked for consideration to be given to the feasibility of particular studies.

56. Mr. Cronin

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what further consideration he has given to amending the law on abortion.

Mr. Moyle

I will let my hon. Friend have a reply as soon as possible.