Doctors at 14 NHS hospitals have been systematically breaking the law by pre-signing abortion consent forms, an investigation by the health watchdog has found.
Under the current law, two doctors must sign a referral form before a woman can go ahead with an abortion.
But an investigation by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) discovered hospitals using pre-signed forms, or forms on which the approval signatures had been photocopied, thereby allowing the second doctor to make the decision on their own.
The CQC carried out a series of unannounced inspections earlier this year and says it found “clear evidence” that consent forms were being pre-signed.
One of the hospitals, the Princess Alexandra Hospital in Harlow, was found using a box of forms which were signed by a doctor who no longer worked there.
“This demonstrated evidence of a doctor either providing to others or knowingly allowing others, to use forms signed in advance by them or photocopied with their signature,” the inspectors said.
The CQC also found irregularities with the consistency and completeness of consent forms at a number of other locations where no evidence of “pre-signing” was found.
The health watchdog has ordered the hospitals concerned to stop using pre-signed forms.
The information has now been passed to the General Medical Council and the police, who will decide whether further action will be taken.
The inspections were launched after Andrew Lansley, the Secretary of State for Health, asked the CQC to investigate whether the pre-signing of forms was commonplace.
The hospitals found to have used pre-signed forms were:
Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust – Bradford Royal Infirmary
Derbyshire Community Health Services NHS Trust – Loughborough Hospital
Kings College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust – Kings College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust
Newcastle-upon-Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust – Royal Victoria Infirmary
Northern Lincolnshire and Goole Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust – Scunthorpe General Hospital
Pennine Acute Hospitals NHS Trust – Rochdale Infirmary
Peterborough and Stamford Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust – Peterborough City Hospital
Princess Alexandra Hospital NHS Trust – Princess Alexandra Hospital
Taunton and Somerset NHS Foundation Trust – Musgrove Park Hospital
University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust – Central Health Clinic
University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust – Leicester General
University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust – Leicester Royal
Wirral University Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust – Arrowe Park Hospital
Wye Valley NHS Trust – Hereford Hospital