Abortion clinic inspections find 14 'broke the rules'

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Fourteen NHS abortion clinics have broken the rules by allowing doctors to pre-sign forms authorising a termination, the health service regulator in England says.

The Care Quality Commission also found "irregularities" at some clinics.

Ministers asked for over 300 private and NHS clinics to be inspected over concerns doctors were signing forms before a woman had been seen.

All Trusts are now complying with the Abortion Act, the CQC says.

The Abortion Act 1967 requires a form (HSA1) certifying that the requirements for a termination have been met to be signed by two doctors before the procedure takes place.

But in January, the CQC identified evidence during an inspection of a private clinic that HSA1 forms were being pre-signed by one doctor.

This is in breach of the Abortion Act, and allows the second doctor to take a solo decision to allow a termination.

NON-COMPLIANT TRUSTS

1. Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust - Bradford Royal Infirmary

2. Derbyshire Community Health Services NHS Trust - Loughborough Hospital

3. Kings College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust

4. Newcastle-upon-Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust - Royal Victoria Infirmary

5. Northern Lincolnshire and Goole Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust - Scunthorpe General Hospital

6. Pennine Acute Hospitals NHS Trust - Rochdale Infirmary

7. Peterborough and Stamford Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust - Peterborough City Hospital

8. Princess Alexandra Hospital NHS Trust - Princess Alexandra Hospital, Harlow, Essex

9. Taunton and Somerset NHS Foundation Trust - Musgrove Park Hospital

10. University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust - Central Health Clinic

11. University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust - Leicester General

12. University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust - Leicester Royal

13. Wirral University Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust - Arrowe Park Hospital

14. Wye Valley NHS Trust - Hereford Hospital

Inspections

Health Secretary Andrew Lansley then asked CQC to investigate whether this practice was widespread.

The resulting inspections, which took place in March, looked specifically for evidence of pre-signed HSA1 forms.

As a result of these unannounced inspections, the CQC has identified evidence of pre-signing at 14 locations, all of which were NHS Trusts.

Inspectors also found irregularities with how the forms were completed at a number of other clinics, but there was no evidence of pre-signing found at these locations and no further action was taken.

The CQC required the trusts which were found to be pre-signing HSA1 forms to stop the practice in order to comply with the Abortion Act.

The CQC said: "All have now done so, and steps including internal audits and staff training have been taken to ensure continued compliance."

The CQC also said it did not find evidence that any women had received poor care at any of these locations.

Andrew Lansley's decision to carry out the inspections had been criticised because they were estimated to have cost around £1m. Other planned inspections had to be cancelled to allow time for them.

Diane Abbott MP, Labour's shadow public health minister, said Mr Lansley was chasing headlines.

"The CQC has blown Andrew Lansley's weak justifications out of the water by confirming that no women had poor outcomes of care at any of the clinics that he personally ordered raids on.

"What is beginning to emerge from this report looks like a dark, sordid and politically charged campaign against care providers, doctors and British women's right to choose."

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