Opinion Former Article

bpas: £1m CQC abortion spotchecks find no evidence of unsafe care

Signing abortion paperwork in advance of a woman being assessed is not a practice bpas undertakes, and so CQC inspectors did not find doctors pre-signing forms at any of bpas’ 28 clinics. Pre-signing is a regulatory not a clinical issue: it is not a practice which puts women at risk or indicates that they are receiving substandard care, as the CQC makes clear. bpas believes that the Secretary of State for Health’s decision to order immediate nationwide investigations at 249 providers, at a cost of £1m, was a disproportionate response to reports of this practice. Pre-signing forms was found at just 14 NHS sites. Rather than improving services for women, we are concerned that the primary consequence has been to create a climate of fear among abortion doctors – which is already impacting negatively on the women who need their help.

Under the Abortion Act 1967, two doctors signatures are required for an abortion. As the Secretary of State for Health is aware, many doctors sign forms legally without personally seeing the woman in question - whose assessment and support is often primarily provided by an experienced multi-disciplinary team. Pre-signing is a practice which may have been undertaken by doctors seeking to minimise the physical and emotional stress to a woman of having to wait any longer than necessary to end an unwanted pregnancy. If there were concerns about pre-signing, a more proportionate response would have been to inform all services that this was not an appropriate practice, rather than threatening doctors who were acting in good faith with prosecution.

bpas is aware that the CQC investigations and continual suggestions of criminal proceedings by the Department of Health have already had a very negative impact on the small numbers of doctors working in this vital yet stigmatised area of women’s healthcare, who are concerned they may be prosecuted over practices suddenly deemed unlawful. Doctors in some smaller services already struggled to find colleagues prepared to provide a second signature promptly, and the heightened scrutiny and uncertainty has made this even harder. The net result will be that women seeking abortion will find access to the services they need more difficult.

Ann Furedi, bpas chief executive, said:

"To demand nationwide CQC searches at a cost of £1m, suspend hundreds of planned inspections, and to threaten these doctors with criminal proceedings was an entirely disproportionate response to the scale of the practice or problem of pre-signing. Pre-signing is not a clinical issue that puts women at risk or compromises their care. It is a regulatory matter that could have been resolved at a far lower cost to the taxpayer and with far less disruption to women and doctors. It is shocking that finite resources were squandered in this way.

"Mr Lansley himself once called on parliament to reconsider the need for a woman to obtain two doctors' signatures for an abortion because he believed it would improve access to earlier care. It is very unfortunate that his ill-conceived campaign as Health Secretary will likely result in women experiencing more difficulty and delay in accessing the services they need. Abortion doctors provide an important, highly-regulated service which is immensely valued by the women who need it. These doctors deserve better than to have their work politicised in this way.”

For more information please contact the bpas press office on 0207 612 0206 or 07788 725185 or email press@bpas.org

About bpas:

bpas supports reproductive choice and health by advocating and providing high quality, affordable services to prevent unwanted pregnancies with contraception or end them by abortion. We also offer a range of other reproductive health services.

bpas is Britain's largest single abortion provider, caring for around 55,000 women each year. It also provides pregnancy testing, counselling, STI screening, contraception, sterilisation, vasectomy and vasectomy reversal at consultation centres and clinics throughout the UK.

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