Select Committee on Science and Technology Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 400-403)


24 OCTOBER 2007

  Q400  Mrs Dorries: Given that you are taking advice from the RCOG, would the Minister accept the paper from Dr Anand and others which is peer reviewed, it is a very well-established paper, would the Minister or the Department accept that paper and review that paper without it coming via the channel of the RCOG?

  Dawn Primarolo: Yes, I think I explained earlier on in answer to, "How does the Department keep itself abreast of information, research, et cetera?", one of the issues was the internationally and nationally published papers and that was a separate stream of information in the Department from discussions with the colleges or anywhere else and that already happens.

  Q401  Mrs Dorries: So, just to conclude, the Department does not see foetal pain as an issue or linked with viability in terms of at what level the upper limit for abortion should be set?

  Dawn Primarolo: No, the Department quite clearly accepts that this is an issue and is commissioning research. We do not have the evidence that links it to viability, but it is an important issue and I have tried to be clear, but did not start so well, with the Committee as to where we are on commissioning research.

  Q402  Mrs Dorries: If the evidence showed that a foetus could feel pain from 20 weeks or less, would the Department then consider altering its guidelines or consider altering or making amendments to the Abortion Act which would reduce the upper limit from 24 down?

  Dawn Primarolo: As I have already said, we do not see the connection necessarily with viability. We do accept that there is an issue here, hence the guidelines from the Royal College to make sure that a certain procedure is taken, and we will continue to look at this issue through our research to make sure that we have the most up-to-date and correct advice being available to practitioners.

  Q403  Chairman: Can I, for the record, slightly correct a point. The RCOG statement says, "We are unaware of the work of Dr Anand or any other work that contradicts the basis of the review". It does not say that it disregarded the work of Dr Anand. To be fair to the RCOG, we need to clarify that. Finally, I want to thank you very, very much indeed for giving us so much of your time this morning, but the RCOG abortion guidelines were updated in 2004 and they were basically updated because there was no NICE guidance at the time and the RCOG sort of came into that void and actually created those guidelines. Given the concern that some members of the Committee have about the advice which the Department is getting, would it not be worthwhile, Minister, or would you consider actually asking NICE to produce guidelines, given the changes in practice, and to review the total evidence so that NICE produced appropriate guidelines?

  Dawn Primarolo: I do not think that that is an appropriate step to take at the present time with regard to requesting further assistance from NICE because, as I have said, I think the operation with the expertise we have now of the Act is in the right place. What I cannot say is for future developments; it would depend on the context and whether it was appropriate to refer to NICE and ask them to issue guidelines. Normally, those guidelines would be on what is effective, works. I think we are discussing much more what is appropriate here.

  Chairman: On that note, could I thank the Rt Hon Dawn Primarolo, the Minister of State, Dr Fiona Adshead and Paula Cohen. Thank you very much indeed for coming.

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