Almost 600 routine inspections of hospitals and care homes have been cancelled by the Care Quality Commission in order to pursue a direct order from health secretary Andrew Lansley to make the investigation of abortion clinics “a priority”, according to a report by the BBC. In a letter from the CQC to the Department Of Health, obtained through a Freedom Of Information request, the CQC also said that the interruption to its scheduled activities had cost £1 million and required the equivalent of 1,100 working days.
What this shows is that, as I wrote for the Guardian last month, the distorted emphasis on scrutinising abortion providers is causing the CQC to neglect its other responsibilities. (The Department Of Health has said that it would have provided more funds had it been asked, but it seems absurd that the government did not anticipate the disruption necessitated by its extraordinary request to the CQC.)
Meanwhile, a further FOI shows the weakness of the grounds on which the Department Of Health took this action. Asked to provide the figures behind the Telegraph’s report that “one in five abortion clinics breaks law”, the CQC gave this reply:
In total, CQC inspected 329 of these services. We believe that the ‘more than 50 clinics’ reference relates to all clinics where we found breaches of any of the regulations under the Health and Social Care Act 2008, as the overall number of services where we found evidence of pre-signed of forms is significantly lower than this number.
Again, this confirms what I wrote for the Guardian: the Telegraph conflated the issue of pre-signed consent forms with other, lesser regulatory breaches in order to exaggerate the appearance of malpractice among abortion providers. Andrew Lansley then used this report as a pretext for extensive and intrusive investigations of reproductive health clinics – despite the fact that he had access to the CQC’s initial findings showing the true extent of potentially illegal activity to be very restricted. The appearance of the government using the CQC to make a politically motivated and weakly justified attack on abortion provision, at the expense of those who depend on other services, is stronger than ever.