Ministers are blamed for `needless panic' over Pill

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Health ministers are today accused of precipitating a "needless panic" over the contraceptive pill as new government figures suggest that last year's scare led to around 3,000 extra abortions in the UK.

A new analysis of the scare also highlights its international impact and long-term effects, and concludes that the Government's advice to women to change from certain brands of the Pill was "unnecessarily alarmist and out of step with the assessment of medical information made ... in other countries".

The report's publication coincides with the publication today of the abortion statistics for the first quarter of 1996, the period most likely to be affected by the events of October 1995. The figures are expected to show a significant increase.

Dr Frank Furedi, head of development studies at Kent University, and Anne Furedi, director of the Birth Control Trust, a charity promoting reproductive health and family planning, who carried out the analysis, say that a "pill panic" was waiting to happen in the UK after reports of deaths linked to one particular brand of the "third generation" combined contraceptive pills.

When preliminary data from three unpublished studies became available, suggesting that women taking third generation pills - those containing the synthetic hormones gestodene or desogestrel - were twice as likely to suffer blood clots as women on older, cheaper brands, the British government and regulatory authorities took action. Around 1.5 million women taking seven of the most popular brands were advised to change.

This decision was driven largely by "the threat of media criticism and possible ... litigation", the report says, rather than concern for public health. Germany and Norway were the only two other countries to recommend a change of brand.