Nurses and midwives would prescribe medical abortion pills under a push by the company that imports the drug known as RU486. MS Health, a not-for-profit subsidiary of MSI Australia, the leading provider of abortion services, will apply to the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) to update who has the right to administer terminations. The Albanese government, which is still to see MSI’s plan, has said it would welcome any proposals to make abortion more accessible, amid a push to set a national standard for ending pregnancies across the states. Under current national rules, medical abortions can be performed by doctors in the first nine weeks of pregnancy. Less than 10 per cent of Australian GPs are registered to prescribe the two courses of pills, containing misoprostol and mifepristone (RU486).

MS Health’s Operations Manager Adam Pirie said he wanted to make abortion pills more accessible for women, particularly in regional and remote areas. “The Risk Management Plan currently in place for MS only allows certified doctors to prescribe the medical abortion pills,” Mr Pirie said. “We are preparing a TGA application to update the plan to widen the definition of who can prescribe the medication. “Effectively, we will be removing one roadblock that prevents nurses, midwives and other healthcare practitioners from prescribing the medical abortion pills. It will then be up to states and territories, and various regulatory bodies to define who can administer the medication.” MS Health plans to submit its new Risk Management Plan to the TGA in coming months.

The TGA will need to assess and approve the plan, with changes to state and territory laws potentially required as prescribing of medicines in Schedule 4 of the Poisons Standard by nurses may be unlawful in some jurisdictions. Assistant Health Minister Ged Kearney said the government has not been formally approached by MS Health but she “would welcome applications to the TGA and the PBAC that seek to remove barriers to access”. Ms Kearney, a former nurse, has been tasked with spearheading a national plan to improve abortion access as part of the National Women’s Health Strategy 2020-30. All eight state and territory women’s ministers have said they were in favour of a framework that would see each jurisdiction streamline abortion legislation. Western Australia is the only state or territory in Australia where abortion remains under the criminal code.

“In light of Roe vs Wade and the changing of abortion rights in the US, I know many Australian women are concerned about access to termination,” Ms Kearney said. “Access to affordable termination is a crucial part of healthcare for women.” Medical abortion medication costs $42.50 under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. However, MSI Australia estimates women can face out-of-pocket costs of more than $350. Anthony Albanese has ruled out forcing state and territory hospitals to provide abortions in public hospital, despite calls from Labor Women’s Caucus chair Sharon Claydon to look at fully funding the cost of procedures through Medicare. Greens Senate Leader Larissa Waters said she wanted telehealth access to be made national and the gestational limit for medical abortions to be raised from nine weeks to 11 weeks.

“The commonwealth can facilitate access to medical abortions by allowing mifepristone to be prescribed up to 2 weeks later in gestation, in accordance with international best practice, and could also support nurse-led models of care for administering it,” Senator Waters said. MS Health has overseen the import, distribution and management of abortion pills since 2012. Managing director Jamal Hakim welcomed the opportunity to work with the Albanese government and the TGA. “When no other distributor or pharmaceutical agent was prepared to invest in the import, distribution and management of the pills necessary to enable universal access to medical abortion, MS Health stepped in.” Mr Hakim said. Brisbane doctor Catriona Melville said “Nurse led care is something that other countries have employed and we know looking at the World Health Organisation’s guidelines that they are very safe,” she said.

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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