Watchdog under fire for cancelling care home inspections to investigate abortion clinics
00:19 GMT, 6 April 2012
The care watchdog has been slapped down by the Government for claiming it has been forced to cancel inspections of hospitals and care homes in order to investigate abortion clinics.
Ministers had demanded the Care Quality Commission carry out an urgent series of spot checks after it emerged doctors were carrying out abortions because foetuses were the ‘wrong sex’.
On Wednesday the CQC warned these investigations had forced it to cancel 580 planned inspections of hospitals and care homes and had used up to 1million in resources.
Claim: The Care Quality Commission said it had been forced to cancel inspections of care homes in order to investigate abortion clinics
But in a strongly-worded letter sent last night, senior civil servants told the CQC it has a responsibility to ensure abortion clinics are run legally and do not put women at risk.
The letter also states the CQC should be perfectly capable of ‘responding quickly’ to evidence of ‘unsafe practice’.
Meanwhile it has emerged the watchdog is likely to spend twice as much on PR and marketing as it will carrying out checks on abortion clinics.
Documents from CQC reveal that in 2011/12 some 1.6million was spent on ‘communications’ while another 417,000 went towards marketing – a total of just over 2million.
The watchdog insists much of this money is spent maintaining its website, which informs patients about the safety of hospitals and care homes.
Senior civil servants told the CQC it has a responsibility to ensure abortion clinics are run legally and do not put women at risk
However civil servants point out resources should not be an issue, given the CQC is likely to have 13million left over in its accounts at the end of the year.
The letter, signed by Richard Douglas, director general of policy, strategy and finance at the Department of Health, states that ‘when the CQC learns of illegal practice, it is absolutely right that it investigates further’.
It adds ‘the public expects nothing less of the regulator’.
The watchdog has been repeatedly criticised in recent months and last year it emerged it had missed the abuse of adults with learning difficulties at the Winterbourne View care home near Bristol.
Only last week MPs on the Public Accounts Committee accused the CQC of putting its own reputation ahead of patient safety.
Last month an undercover investigation revealed doctors at some abortion clinics were illegally allowing women to have terminations just because they wanted a baby of the opposite sex.
The Government told the CQC to urgently investigate 320 abortion clinics and it has since emerged up to a fifth may be breaking the law.
While visiting the clinics the watchdog’s inspectors found doctors were signing off consent forms for women to have abortions despite knowing nothing of their circumstances.
Doctors are meant to have either seen patients in person or at the very least read their medical records.
Since the investigation one doctor. Prabha Sivaraman. has been banned by the General Medical Council for offering terminations.
A CQC spokesman said: ‘The CQC’s chair wrote to the Department of Health setting out the cost of this programme in both financial terms and in terms of the number of inspections foregone as a result.
‘This was an entirely appropriate action for a public body which has a duty to account for its expenditure and resourcing allocation to take, and in line with recent recommendations from the Health Select Committee.’