Guidelines published this week on the use of abortions have flagged up variations in availability which mean that 90 per cent of procedures are funded by just 19 health authorities in England and Wales.

The guidelines, from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, say no woman should have to wait longer than three weeks between referral and abortion and suggest 'ideal' waits of seven days.

They were published alongside a national audit of abortion services provision, which found that almost all procedures were paid for by 19 of the 104 HAs in England and Wales.

Day-case surgery is praised as 'a cost-effective model of abortion service that can minimise disruption to the lives of women and their families'. The guidelines suggest that 'where possible, women admitted for abortion should be treated separately from other gynaecological patients'.

The guidelines also say all services should be able to offer abortion by one recommended method for each gestation band and 'ideally' by a choice of models.

The guidelines also call for the development of local stragegies on providing information on access to services.

The Care of Women Requesting Induced Abortion . www.rcog.org.uk.£12.