Investigation of abortion practices
The Department of Health and CQC are increasing their focus upon termination of pregnancy services. Following The Telegraph secret investigation, which highlighted allegations of clinics agreeing abortions on the ground of gender of the foetus, the Chief Medical Officer wrote to all NHS Medical Directors and independent sector abortion clinics reminding them of their obligations under the relevant legislation and guidance. CQC then undertook a programme of unannounced inspections of private and NHS clinics.
Reports indicate that CQC has identified non-compliance with the law in approximately 20% of the 250 clinics it has visited. Andrew Lansley has warned that enforcement action could be taken against individual practitioners and provider organisations and it has now been reported that CQC will make repeat visits to clinics where concerns were noted.
Whilst initial concerns were over termination on the basis of gender selection, it is clear that the range of issues which providers need to guard against stretches more widely. Providers should carry out a thorough audit of their services, including focus on the following:
In addition to the implications for individual practitioners both in terms of criminal liability and fitness to practice proceedings before the GMC, non-compliance also has serious implications for the provider organisations themselves. Providers may face withdrawal of the Secretary of State’s approval of their premises (in the case independent sector), criminal proceedings for non-compliance with the Abortion Regulations, and/or enforcement action by CQC, ranging from prosecution through, ultimately, to cancellation of registration under the Health and Social Care Act 2008.
Given the range of sanctions which may arise, and the focus on these issues by the Department of Health and CQC, it is clearly essential for providers to ensure, and monitor ongoing compliance with these issues.
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