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One in four GPs will not refer for abortion

Experts in women's health have warned of a 'lottery' in access to abortion after a Pulse survey found one in four GPs was refusing to sign referral forms.

The findings have prompted warnings that some GPs are putting themselves at risk of GMC action by failing to fulfil their obligations to patients.Pulse's survey is the first evidence from GPs themselves of widespread discomfort over their role as gatekeepers for abortion. It confirms suggestions from a study of women seeking abortion published last year that some GPs were unwilling to refer.Nearly one in five of more than 300 GPs who responded to a survey on medical ethics said they did not believe abortion should be legal, with 24% saying they would not sign abortion referral forms.More than half of those supporting abortion said the 24-week limit should be reduced.Dr Robbie Foy, author of the earlier study, told Pulse: 'Any sort of trend towards more doctors refusing to participate in induced abortion will risk marginalising this essential service.'Dr Foy, clinical senior lecturer at Newcastle University, added that abortion was currently 'a lottery for women'.'We must provide reliable, secure and non-judgmental care. Many women are still not getting this at present and face unacceptable delays, which increase the risks of complications as well as causing additional anxiety.'Toni Belfield, director of information at the Family Planning Association, said the figures were 'fairly shocking'.'If they're choosing to have conscientious objections they should be signposting women to colleagues. Some women tell us they will go along to their GPs and the GP says \\"I can't help, I don't believe in it\\",' she said.GP experts warned that objectors must take extra care to adhere to guidance.Dr Sarah Gray, primary care lead in sexual health for Central Cornwall PCT, said: 'The GMC guidance is that if you do not feel you can refer yourself you shouldn't then put that as an obstacle. You should refer them to a colleague who can.'A Department of Health spokesperson said: 'If GPs feel their beliefs might affect the treatment, this must be explained to the patient who should be told of their right to see another doctor.'

dcressey@cmpmedica.com

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