Andrew Lansley 'had a duty to act because there was a risk to women' / Susannah Ireland


Andrew Lansley was criticised by Conservative and Labour MPs yesterday for ordering urgent inspections of abortion clinics which delayed hundreds of other checks.

The Health Secretary was accused of "chasing headlines" and trying to divert attention away from NHS reforms by instructing the Care Quality Commission (CQC) to launch spot checks on more than 300 abortion clinics.

He came under fire after the CQC disclosed that the time and resources involved meant 580 other inspections were cancelled at a cost of £1m. But, it found evidence that some doctors were "pre-signing" abortion consent forms.

Stephen Dorrell, a Tory former Health Secretary who now chairs the Commons Health Select Committee, said: "He should have drawn attention to the fact this was an issue in the newspapers, and invited them [the CQC] to consider that in the context of their priorities." He added: "The question is whether the CQC, as an independent regulator, should be determining its own priority, or having its priorities determined for it."

Andy Burnham, the shadow Health Secretary, said: "In the middle of this inspection, the Secretary of State communicated the early findings to a newspaper, before the inspection programme was complete... That gives the clear impression that Mr Lansley was chasing headlines rather than following due process and, indeed, compromised the independence of the regulator."

Mr Lansley insisted he had a duty under the 1967 Abortion Act to intervene because there was a risk to women, and "serious concerns" had been raised that clinics were not complying.

Mr Lansley suffered another setback when the Information Tribunal outlined its reasons for backing disclosure of the Government's risk assessment on its NHS shake-up. It said the proposals "hardly changed" following extensive consultations on its White Paper.