Abortion Rights Blog

The national pro-choice campaign

Clinic inspections point to new attack on abortion services

Further evidence has emerged that the government is engaged on an ideological crusade to undermine abortion provision when it was revealed that the Care Quality Commission (CQC) has been ordered to undertake spot checks on all abortion providers in the UK.

According to the Department of Health, the inspections were carried out to establish whether procedures for signing permission forms were being followed correctly.

A statement released on Thursday linked the checks to allegations published by the Telegraph last month that doctors at three clinics had agreed to carry out terminations for the purpose of sex selection:

“Since February, it has come to light through CQC inspections that more clinics could be breaking the law than first thought.

The CQC is conducting unannounced inspection to see if there is evidence of pre-signing. Inspectors have this week mounted a large number of spot checks across the country.”

Announcing the checks, Secretary of State for Health Andrew Lansley said,

“I am shocked and appalled to learn that some clinics – which look after women in what are often difficult circumstances – may be allowing doctors to pre-sign abortion certificates. This is contrary to the spirit of the Abortion Act.

He continued: “We will set up a special team comprising of all the necessary regulators and the Department to look at how we stamp out bad practice in abortion”.

However, in spite of the strongly worded statement, it is unclear whether any evidence of illegality by clinic staff has been uncovered.

Abortion Rights understands that the order to immediately inspect all clinics came directly from the Secretary of State and that CQC staff were told to make the checks their highest priority. It appears that the Department of Health then contacted the Telegraph and the BBC to announce that it had important new revelations about abortion clinics.

Responding to news of the investigation, Abortion Rights campaign co-ordinator Darinka Aleksic said:

“Andrew Lansley has clearly decided to go to war against the UK’s abortion providers. At a time when public finances are under intense pressure it is beyond belief that he has ordered Care Quality Commission staff to drop everything and go on a fishing expedition to find fault with the system. 

The government is seeking to muddy the waters around abortion services and to undermine trust in providers in order to pave the way for damaging new requirements around abortion counselling.

It should really be focusing on anti-choice activists harassing women outside abortion clinics and on the dangerous misinformation and ideological bias doled out by so-called ‘Crisis Pregnancy Centres’. But there has been a deafening silence on these issues from ministers.”

Ann Furedi, Chief Executive of abortion provider BPAS commented:

“Abortion doctors provide an important service to women who are often in difficult circumstances. Their work is already intensely scrutinised, with clinics regularly inspected by the Care Quality Commission.

Mr Lansley says he is shocked and appalled by the practices he has uncovered. bpas is shocked and appalled that Mr Lansley has found it necessary to inform journalists of alleged breaches of the abortion law before he has informed those responsible for providing the services that have been investigated, and before the investigation is concluded.”

Updated 3.00pm, 23.03.12

Diane Abbott, Labour’s Shadow Public Health Minister, has released a statement raising concerns about the CQC abortion investigation:

‘These are serious allegations about breaches of the law. Where there is bad practice, the government has a responsibility to vulnerable woman to take action. The law is very clear, and we need to work to make sure doctors are working within the law. 

However, I have real concerns about the way this investigation has happened. There are questions that need to be answered by Andrew Lansley. How could data from forms from more than 250 clinics be processed in one day, in time for the claims to made a day later? Why was this raid carried out in the first place? What was the evidence that led to it? Why was the media told about the latest inspections before the clinics?

‘Last month we had another story from the Daily Telegraph alleging illegal activity on the part of abortion clinics. This month the BPAS website has been hacked by an anti-abortion extremist. And we have seen protestors outside clinics mimicking the tactics of the American far right and harassing women and abortion clinic doctors and nurses.

 ‘Of course we must stamp out poor practise. But women could be forgiven for thinking that what we are seeing is a steady drumbeat from anti-choice activists and their friends in the media and Westminster.’