HC Deb 02 July 1979 vol 969 cc497-8W
Mr. Alton

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will publish in the Official Report the text of the letter from the Minister for Health which describes the abortion incident on 4 January at Whiston hospital.

Dr. Vaughan

Yes. The following is the text of my letter of 22 June to the hon. GentlemanUpon learning of this matter, my Department asked the St. Helens and Knowsley Area Health Authority for a full report in writing; I have now seen the report of the authority's investigation, which includes statements from all the medical and nursing staff involved. The pregnancy, which examination had indicated was of 18‣20 weeks' gestation, was terminated at 8.30 p.m. on 4 January 1979. The foetus was wrapped in a sheet and taken to a sluice room where it was placed on a melamine worktop. Some slight movements of the chest wall at lengthy intervals were noticed by nursing staff, but no limb movements or struggling for breath were observed. I am advised in any case that movements of their own cannot be regarded as evidence that the foetus was capable of independent existence. A doctor made a thorough examination or the foetus at 9 p.m. and concluded that there was no evidence of life. Subsequent laboratory investigation confirmed that the foetus was 20 cm. in length and weighed 300 grams, which is consistent with a gestational age of 18–19 weeks. On the basis of this information I am advised that the lungs would have been incapable of expansion and that the foetus could not have maintained independent life. I am, of course, well aware that this is an occurrence which has caused distress and has occasioned considerable publicity. But I hope you will agree that what I am able to tell you shows that there was no real basis for the allegations that have been made.