GPs soon able to prescribe abortion drugs in ACT

Amanda Lyons

24/06/2019 3:20:01 PM

New legislation will enable women to access drugs for medical abortion through specially trained GPs from 1 July.

Giving prescription
From 1 July, specially trained GPs in the ACT will be able to provide prescriptions for medical abortion drugs.

‘The passing of the legislation last year to expand access to medical abortion was a landmark moment for Canberran women,’ Greens member Caroline Le Couteur, who introduced the legislative amendment enabling the prescriptions in the ACT, told newsGP.
‘This reform had been well overdue. These drugs have been available on the PBS for many years. From 1 July, Canberran women will be able to better access these drugs in a timely way.’
Prior to the private members bill introduced by Ms Le Couteur, termination could only be carried out by medical practitioners at an approved clinic. This limited women in the ACT seeking termination to the Marie Stopes clinic, at a cost of about $500, or, in some cases, the Canberra Hospital.
However, the cost and stigma of the procedure proved prohibitive for some patients. This often resulted in them accessing prescriptions for medical termination via telehealth services before travelling over the New South Wales border into Queanbeyan, where the drugs could be legally obtained.
Chair of RACGP NSW&ACT Associate Professor Charlotte Hespe believes the new legislation provides a much improved situation for women in the ACT.
‘While abortion isn’t strictly legal in New South Wales it is accessible under certain circumstances, and GPs there have been able to do this prescribing for some time,’ she told newsGP.
‘But once patients are in Queanbeyan, in New South Wales, they’re under much less broad requirements for access to abortion.
‘It’s much better to provide [medical abortion] under the ACT legislation, where it is legal to access, versus the situation where it’s legal in the ACT but you have to go to Queanbeyan to get the drugs, and then have to fulfil a certain requirement.’

Chair of RACGP NSW&ACT Associate Professor Charlotte Hespe believes the new legislation provides a much improved situation for women in the ACT.

Ms Le Couteur wanted her bill to bring the ACT into line with other Australian jurisdictions, in making medical abortion more accessible.
‘Access to affordable sexual and reproductive healthcare, including medical abortion, is part of every person’s right to control their own body, no matter where they live,’ she said.
Canberra general practice registrar Dr Jessica Tidemann agrees with Ms Le Couteur’s goal, and is supportive of GPs’ role in providing access to the procedure.
‘Given the majority of people have a GP they see regularly, we often see people first for these sorts of things and we’re also well-placed to facilitate access,’ she told newsGP.
‘I also think, while there are often barriers due to stigma associated with specialist services, people may feel more comfortable going to see a GP because it’s a less of a hurdle and there is more anonymity in going to a general practice.’
As in other jurisdictions in Australia, it is entirely voluntary for GPs whether or not they choose to become prescribers for medical abortion.
Additionally, GPs who wish to be able to prescribe for medical abortion must undergo training before they can do so, as it is not necessarily a straightforward procedure.
‘Agreeing to be a prescriber is not just about saying, “I’m going to give you the prescription”, it’s also about, “I’m going to hand over a prescription and make sure that the journey of your care from here to afterwards is appropriately and safely managed”,’ Associate Professor Hespe said.
Training for GPs in Canberra who want to become prescribers is currently taking place, with 30 signing up to take part ahead of the 1 July date.
This number includes Dr Tidemann.
‘It primarily covers information about the process of medical termination, the medications involved,’ she said.
‘But also determining who is and who isn’t suitable for a medical termination, because it depends on the gestation of the pregnancy, the person’s access to follow up services, whether or not they have any medical conditions or things that would preclude them being prescribed medical termination.
‘[The training] contains specific information about the particular medications, identifying suitable and excluding unsuitable patients, and the process of follow-up and managing any potential complications, and doing that with the support of local services.’
Dr Tidemann stressed the strong emphasis on patient safety and support throughout the process.
‘There is also a 24-hour phone line service as part of the medication prescription that women have access to, so that is a further support,’ she said.
‘I think that, where used in suitable patients with appropriate support and follow-up, these medications are quite safe.’

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