Teenager told to travel more than 200 miles for abortion, after waiting seven weeks for an appointment
- Credit: Archant
A 17-year-old girl today tells of the trauma of being forced to wait for seven weeks and then having to travel to London from Norwich for an abortion.
The teenager, who said she was 'crying all the time', was at one stage told she would have to go to Bristol for the operation.
Eventually she was offered the appointment in London, having endured the heartache of two scans and an enormous amount of doubt and fear.
The situation arose because Marie Stopes, the sole provider of abortions at the time, was facing 'unprecedented demand'.
It came in the wake of a two-month period last year when terminations were suspended at the Norwich clinic following a damning report from the Care Quality Commission (CQC).
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The girl, who this newspaper is not naming, found out she was pregnant in November last year and decided she was not in a position to have a child.
'I was really excited when I first found out but then when I thought about it we struggle to pay our bills anyway, and it would not have been fair, we wouldn't have been able to cope,' she said.
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So her mother contacted Marie Stopes.
'They told me they didn't have any appointments and to call back after Christmas,' she said. 'So I did and they said they still didn't have any appointments and the diary for February was not open yet and I'd have to call back. By this time my daughter was feeling terrible, she was feeling sick and the fact her partner wanted her to have the baby was making it harder.'
The girl's mother then made an appointment with the GP, to see if there was another route, but was told the only way her daughter would be able to have an abortion elsewhere was if there was a medical need. Not knowing what else to do the family turned to their MP Chloe Smith.
'After her office wrote to the Marie Stopes CEO, she was finally offered an appointment, but it was in Bristol,' the girl's mother said.
The cost of getting there seemed impossible for the family, who rely on benefits, but logistically they also felt it was not possible, as they would need to be there early in the morning.
Other offers were made to travel to Birmingham, Manchester and Southend - but this presented the same issues, Finally, Marie Stopes was able to offer an appointment in London on February 10 this year, when she was 15 weeks and three days pregnant.
But as she had been made to wait for so long, it had passed the point of being able to take a tablet and instead she had to undergo a surgical abortion.
'We felt we had to take it because time was running out,' the girl said. 'But it was horrible - they kept me waiting all that time, I was crying all the time, I wasn't eating and I spent all day in bed.
'I found if I laid on my side I would get flutters in my stomach - I'm not saying it was the baby moving and it might have all been in my head but it was only ever when I laid on my side.'
Her mother added: 'She felt pregnant, her clothes did not fit and I was concerned she was going to feel movement. Luckily she's got family but a lot of girls her age might not be able to get help or speak to their mum about it.'
The girl said because of the wait, she had been changing her mind, especially as the couple had to have a scan at eight weeks because of bleeding, and then the normal 12-week scan.
'It was a long time considering at 16 weeks you can find out the sex,' she added. Her mother said: 'But it's not just people like my daughter. Imagine if a poor woman had been raped and was forced to keep the baby in them for that long. We just don't want to see this happen to anyone else.'
A spokesman for Marie Stopes UK said: 'When this appointment was booked in January, abortion services in England were facing unprecedented demand. This meant our surgical services were operating at capacity and some women faced delays in accessing them. This demand was more acute in our Norwich centre, which was only contracted to provide surgical services on one day per week.
'Marie Stopes UK did everything within our power to meet the increased demand, including booking clients into clinics in other areas so that they could be seen sooner and reimbursing travel costs. Our first priority is always the wellbeing of the women who depend on our services, and we could not operate beyond the limits of what was safe. We understand how frustrating these delays were for the women affected, and we would like to express our sincere thanks to them for their patience.'
Since the family's experience, a new provider has been chosen to carry out abortions in Norfolk.
From this month a three-year contract with the British Pregnancy Advice Service (BPAS) began.
But commissioners insisted the timing was not related to this case, or the temporary suspension of abortions at Marie Stopes' Norwich clinic last year, after a damning Care Quality Commission (CQC) inspection.
A spokesman for West Norfolk CCG said: 'The procurement took place as scheduled because the contract for the current service was nearing the end of its term and had to be offered to all providers to tender for.'
Marie Stopes said it had not put in a bid to renew the contract.
The suspension came after the CQC unveiled a catalogue of failings at Marie Stopes International (MSI) clinics nationwide.
Such were the problems at the Norwich clinic, the charity was prompted to stop carrying out all abortions there for nearly two months while issues were addressed.
Some of the worst infection failings in the country were found in the city, with foetal tissue left in an 'open hazardous waste bin' which was not emptied between cases.
Staff were not trained in how to respond to a deteriorating patient, achieving poor results when resuscitation simulations were attempted. Patients were put at risk of avoidable errors, because basic surgery checklists were not followed, with long waits for patients having terminations.
And doctors were found to be 'bulk signing' up to 60 consent forms at a time with little indication that they were familiar with a patient's situation.
Services were suspended at Marie Stopes clinics outside of Norwich too.
But this only affected terminations involving general anaesthetic and sedation, and all involving under 18s.
The MSI group was allowed to recommence restricted services in October 2016, after carrying out training in resuscitation, consent and governance.
At the time Suzanne Ash, interim managing director at Marie Stopes UK, said they had made extensive changes.
She added: 'We have learned from this, and intend to continue our focus on providing the safe and compassionate care that women expect and deserve.'