Abortion clinic inspections queried
Health Secretary Andrew Lansley is said to have been "shocked" by a letter from health regulator the Care Quality Commission (CQC) apparently expressing concerns over the costs of inspecting abortion clinics.
The chairwoman of the organisation reportedly said she had to divert resources and cut the number of inspections of hospitals and care homes as a result of the abortion investigation. Health department sources said Mr Lansley was shocked by the letter, and that the CQC had not asked for more money, but could have had it if it had done so.
According to the Daily Telegraph, Dame Jo Williams wrote on March 23: "Such a request at short notice entails operation's management time in planning the visits, cancelling pre-planned inspections as well as the compliance inspector's time in carrying out the visits and drafting the reports. Add to this the anticipated enforcement activity that will inevitably arise and it is clear that this has a considerable impact on our capacity to deliver our annual targets."
She added that the abortion investigation meant that 580 other inspections were "foregone" and that the total cost would be about £1 million.
The Government announced last month that the investigation had shown that some doctors were breaking the law by "pre-signing" abortion consent forms. Spot checks at more than 250 abortion clinics found evidence of blank forms being signed in anticipation of patients seeking a termination.
The law states that, except in emergencies, two doctors must agree for a woman to have an abortion.
Although doctors do not have to see the woman in person, they must certify that they are aware of her circumstances and why she wants to go ahead with the procedure. Nurses, counsellors and other healthcare professionals can assess the woman before the forms are signed.
Of more than 250 clinics investigated, it was thought 15% to 20% might be breaking the law.
A Department of Health spokeswoman said: "The CQC's statutory duty is to uphold the law. The CQC was one of the organisations who warned us of this issue at the time, and agreed with us that a programme of inspections should take place as a proportionate response to the serious allegations being made.
"We would expect the CQC, like any good regulator, to be able to prioritise its inspections and are told that in this case they did so, so that no patients were placed at risk. The CQC has around 900 inspectors, only some of whom were involved in these inspections, the vast majority of which were completed within four days."