No evidence of abortions ‘without sign-offs’ – updated

From the file marked ‘Misleading Headlines’ the Press Association (as churned by MSN UK news) reports:

400 abortions ‘without sign-offs’

More than 400 abortions were carried out last year without the right information being submitted to the Chief Medical Officer (CMO), official figures have shown.

Doctors also failed to provide enough information about their patients in another 40 cases, according to the statistics from the Department of Health (DoH).

In 2011, there were 449 abortions carried out without doctors supplying the correct information to the DoH. In 2009, that figure was just 310, while 29 babies were aborted with incomplete information from patients.

Under the Abortion Act 1967, two doctors must approve a patient for an abortion. Their signatures of approval are then sent to the CMO. The doctor carrying out the termination must then submit a form to the CMO which includes the names and addresses of the doctors who approved the abortion.

The figures were revealed in an answer to a written ministerial question from Nadine Dorries, Tory MP for Mid Bedfordshire.

Answering Ms Dorries, Health Minister Anne Milton said: “Departmental officials make every effort to obtain missing data and information.

“Sometimes this is not possible for a number of reasons including illness, death or suspension of the terminating doctor or the doctor moving abroad.”

Ms Dorries said: “There is no part of the process that shouldn’t be properly adhered to because for many people it is about ending life and therefore the process should be completely adhered to.”

All of which could taken as evidence that 400 abortions were carried out last year without the requisite signatures from two doctors having been obtained.

Now here’s the Hansard record of Dorries’ written question.

Nadine Dorries: To ask the Secretary of State for Health how many abortion forms returned to his Department (a) did not have the required two doctors’ signatures and (b) were incomplete in each of the last five years for which figures are available. [114779]

Anne Milton: The abortion form (HSA1) which requires the signature of two certifying doctors prior to an abortion, agreeing that there are grounds under the 1967 Abortion Act, is not submitted to the chief medical officer (CMO).

The medical practitioner performing the abortion is required to sign form HSA4 and submit details of the termination to CMO. This includes the names and addresses of the practitioners who provided the certification on form HSA1. The following table shows the total of missing data items on HSA4 forms for the years 2007 to 2011:

Patient information Certifying and terminating doctor information
2007 105 325
2008 82 461
2009 29 310
2010 27 31
2011 40 449

So Milton’s reply does not provide any evidence to show that abortion have been carried out without being signed off by two doctors, as the abortion form (HSA 1) that has to be signed off by law is not submitted to the Chief Medical Officer.

All that has actually happened is that a small number of HS4 notification forms – just under a quarter of one percent – have not been completed correctly before being sent to the CMO, which is well within the realms of general clerical error.

UPDATE

Over at Lib Con, Sunny adds an interesting new dimension to this story:

Nadine Dorries thought this was a great coup! She sent out a quote to the Press Association:

This situation means that these abortions weren’t legal. There are reasons why two doctors’ signatures are needed and it is to protect doctors from criminal prosecution.

These abortions were illegally carried out and the doctors who carried them out are vulnerable. I have been saying for a long time that we need nothing less than a full review of abortion law and abortion practices and this highlights the need for a review.

But that wasn’t true at all.

She then had to send out an amended quote saying:

There is no part of the process that shouldn’t be properly adhered to because for many people it is about ending life and therefore the process should be completely adhered to.

This happens because, according to the Dept of Health: “Sometimes this is not possible for a number of reasons including illness, death or suspension of the terminating doctor or the doctor moving abroad.”

Some years ago, while I was doing the prep work for an employment tribunal case (not mine, I  might stress) I was advised by a solicitor that the golden rule of cross-examination was that you should never ask a witness a question to which you don’t already know the answer.

In Dorries’s case, the golden rule would seem to be that she should never ask a question to which she cannot understand the answer.