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Doctors Warn on Pregnancy Counselling

The Government's proposed new pregnancy counselling Medicare item number may well breach women's privacy, AMA President, Dr Mukesh Haikerwal, warned today//.

Available only to women who are uncertain about whether to continue with their pregnancy, the item would allow identification of women who talk to their GP about termination, Dr Haikerwal said.

"This item number would put on the record the fact that a woman has had an unplanned pregnancy or is uncertain about whether to continue with her pregnancy, regardless of her ultimate choice," Dr Haikerwal said.

"That information would be accessible to anyone who may see the woman's account, either during payment or during collection of the Medicare rebate.

"That could include family members, practice staff or Medicare staff.

"This impacts on patients' privacy - particularly in small towns or close-knit communities - and may potentially lead to discrimination against the patient.

"In addition, the item number excludes use by GPs who have been associated with termination services and restricts the provision of such counselling to GPs who have undergone mental health training.

"In combination, these three factors will significantly limit Australian women's access to pregnancy advice, care and counselling - the exact opposite of what the Government says the item number is designed to do.

"This is an important health and human rights issue."

Linking the item number to mental health training implies that women who are counselled have a mental health problem, Dr Haikerwal said.

"We don't believe pregnancy is a mental illness," he said.

"GPs are highly capable of providing full and objective information to all women, including those who are pregnant, in a supportive, confidential environment - regardless of whether they work in private practice, for a termination service or anywhere else.


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