Doctor gave women drugs to induce abortions

A rural doctor has been found guilty of professional misconduct for giving women drugs to induce abortions.

The physician, whose name has been kept secret, was suspended from practising for six months by the Health Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal and was granted another practising certificate three days after the suspension ended.

She told the tribunal that she considered it a necessary service.

In one case, a patient later had to have a fallopian tube removed when an ectopic pregnancy ruptured, according to a decision from the tribunal.

The GP, known as Dr N, gave four women who wanted to terminate their pregnancies misoprostol. The medication is commonly used to treat stomach ulcers, but cannot be given to pregnant women as it can cause miscarriages or damage to the fetus.

Dr N, who has had more than 30 years' experience, hid her actions by not updating the patients' records.

She was reported to a conduct committee after a fifth-year medical student, named Dr L, witnessed her giving a woman the pills in an envelope and telling her: "I think you are having a miscarriage and this will help it along."

The tribal decision said: "It was clear to Dr L that it was 'very understood' by Patient A that she had been given an abortion drug."

However, the patient was not warned of the effects of the drug and no clinical examination was carried out.

When Dr L questioned Dr N about the medication, she said that while it was an off-licence use of the drug, it would save the patient "a massive ordeal associated with a trip ... for an abortion".

She considered it was a "necessary service and she felt justified in her decision to use it in Patient A's situation", Dr L told the tribunal.

"Dr N said that she would defend her decision ... in a court of law."

The tribunal heard there were three other cases.

In all cases she failed to record the details on the patients' medical notes or pass on the information where necessary to other doctors.

The tribunal said there were dangers in administering the drug to induce an abortion because it "may not have the desired result and a viable pregnancy may continue with a potential risk of fetal abnormality; or that if a miscarriage did occur, it would not be complete."

The doctor was charged with breaching the Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion Act 1977, as well as failing to undertake proper clinical assessments and provide adequate support to the patients given the drug.

"Dr N was acting contrary to all relevant guidelines, especially as to safe prescribing," the tribunal said.

In her defence, Dr N told the tribunal she had been stressed and "allowed herself to become overwhelmed by the need to help those desperately seeking her help".

A spokesman for the Medical Council said last night that the doctor's suspension was deferred for a month to allow her "to order her affairs".

The suspension lapsed on November 27. Three days later, she was granted another practising certificate, which lasts for 12 months.

Termination rules

• Abortion must be authorised by two medically qualified and specially approved certifying consultants.
• Councelling must be offered to the person seeing the abortion.

- Patrice Dougan 

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