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Miscommunication leads to persistent barriers in access of abortion pill

Confusion over the training required by medical professionals to prescribe the abortion pill Mifegymiso may be creating barriers for its access in New Brunswick, even months after it was announced that New Brunswick would be offering the pill free of charge back in June.

At the time it was announced, New Brunswick medical professionals were required by Health Canada to take a 5-6 hour online training course in order to prescribe the pill. Health Canada has since waived this requirement and passed the regulatory duties on to the provinces and territories.

However, the Brunswickan has discovered that miscommunication between Health Canada and the province has resulted in the New Brunswick Department of Health still insisting that the training is required.

Mifegymiso is a combination of drugs that can be prescribed by a health official and used to terminate a pregnancy up to 49 days.The 5-6 hour online training course for prescribing Mifegymiso was viewed as a barrier for the pill’s access by many in the province.

“Mifegymiso…has been used for years very safely and effectively, but unfortunately there’s a lot of restrictions on it in Canada and so it’s making it really hard for people to be able to access,” said Alli Webster, member of advocacy group Reproductive Justice New Brunswick.

Webster said that many doctors in the province had yet to complete the online training course required to prescribe the abortion pill.

“Doctors have to take this course so it’s challenging to encourage doctors to spend what little free time they have to take this online course in order to be able to prescribe a drug,” Webster added.

The online training course is a collection of modules designed by the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada in collaboration with the College of Family Physicians and the Canadian Pharmacists Association. The program is offered to Canadian medical professionals for a registration fee of $50.

According to the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada, the number of New Brunswick doctors who have received the online training was at 33 in mid-September. There are 31 pharmacists and 1 nurse in the province who have completed the training as well.

This brings the number of officials who have completed the training to 65 in total, up from the 41 CBC reported had received training at the time of the announcement about the universal access back in June.

But what was interesting was that when the Brunswickan asked about the number of health officials in New Brunswick who had received the necessary training, the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada observed that the training was actually no longer necessary, according to Health Canada.

The Brunswickan asked Health Canada for a statement, and media relations officer Renelle Briand clarified that it was a common misconception that the whole course was required, adding that it took less than an hour to complete what Health Canada required.

“Doctors should complete Module 5 of the Medical Abortion Training Program… before prescribing, ordering, stocking (if applicable) or dispensing MIFEGYMISO,” said Briand in an emailed statement.

However, when the Brunswickan went back to the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, it was explained that Module 5 was not required, either.

“Our understanding is that Module five is no longer required either. So our information differs from the person you spoke with,” said Anne Trueman of the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.

A follow-up phone call to Briand revealed that Health Canada had waived the requirement of any training to prescribe the pill and instead passed on the regulatory duties to the provinces and territories.

“Module 5 is the module that Health Canada recommended,” said Briand.

This change in rules doesn’t seem to have been communicated to provincial government officials. The Brunswickan reached out to the New Brunswick Department of Health inquiring about this change in regulatory power.

Communications officer for the Department of Health, Paul Bradley,  passed along a statement on the behalf of the department, which maintained that the full training program was required by Health Canada.

“Health Canada requires physicians to complete a training program before prescribing Mifegymiso,” Bradley said in an emailed statement.

The full training is still required in New Brunswick, even though Health Canada has waived the requirement.


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