Doctors at Bradford Royal Infirmary signed abortion documents before assessing whether patients met the legal requirements to have their pregnancies terminated, the health watchdog has found.
A decision to abort a pregnancy must be made by two doctors, but the Care Quality Commission found that 14 NHS trusts in England, including in Bradford, broke the law by letting just one doctor make the assessments.
As a result of unannounced inspections, the CQC found “clear evidence” of “pre-signing” at Bradford Royal Infirmary, Loughborough Hospital, the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle, Scunthorpe General Hospital, Rochdale Infirmary, Peterborough City Hospital, the Princess Alexandra Hospital in Harlow, Essex, Musgrove Park Hospital in Taunton, Somerset, Bristol’s Central Health Clinic, Leicester General, Leicester Royal, Arrowe Park Hospital in Wirral, Hereford Hospital and Kings College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust in south-east London,
The CQC said the practice has since stopped at the various locations. It added that it did not find evidence that any women had poor outcomes of care at any of these locations.
Health Secretary Andrew Lansley commissioned the CQC to conduct the inspections after it was discovered that a doctor in a private clinic was pre-signing such forms in January. Following an investigation, the CQC found evidence of the practice in 14 of 249 abortion providers.
Abortion provider bpas said that launching the immediate inspections was a “disproportionate response to reports of this practice”. It accused Mr Lansley of “squandering” £1 million - the cost of the CQC investigation.
Chief executive Ann Furedi said: “To demand nationwide CQC searches at a cost of £1 million, 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.”