Headlines: August 1st, 2005

The National Health Service could save close to a billion pounds over 15 years by investing in contraceptive services and speeding up women’s access to abortion services, according to research published today. The study has been released by the Family Planning Association to mark the beginning of Sexual Health Week.The report’s key findings show that changes to patterns of contraceptive prescription and raising awareness of different methods of contraception would cut the number of unintended pregnancies. That, FPA says, would lead to annual cuts in the cost of maternity and abortion services of 33 million pounds a year. The study shows, too, that the contraceptive methods that are routinely offered to women do not always meet their needs and it estimates that the use of implants and the IUS would each increase by almost 10 per cent if women’s true preferences were met.

Cutting abortion waiting times by just 10 days, the research says, would make more women eligible for early medical abortions or surgical abortions under local anaesthetic, both of which are more cost effective and less complicated than other options. The report says that would lead to further savings of up 30 million pounds a year. Current waiting times for abortion vary greatly. Just under a third of Primary Care Trusts offer abortions within 14 days, while in 16 per cent of PCT areas women wait more than 28 days.

A model for Trusts to help them with the practical task of reducing costs in their services will be available when the full report is published in September. An executive summary will be sent to all PCT chief executives across England. Anne Weyman, Chief Executive of FPA said the research sent a clear and urgent message to the chief executives that they had to champion fertility choices and invest to save. “A comprehensive review of contraceptive and abortion services could save the NHS over 60 million pounds a year, not only in these specific areas but across related sectors. Cutting corners in service provision is a false economy,” she said.

She believed that reducing waiting times for abortions by 10 days was a wholly achievable objective for PCTs, many of which had already made good progress. “PCTs are under huge financial pressure to provide cost-effective and streamlined services. This way they can improve healthcare provision and save money at the same time.” she added.