Damned if you do ...

A few weeks ago evidence was brought to the attention of the government which suggested that the correct procedures were not being followed by some abortion clinics.

The Secretary of State for health, Andrew Lansley, asked the relevant inspectorate to carry out spot checks, on abortion clinics, which they agreed to do.

Various people, particularly members of the opposition, have been jumping up and down complaining about the Secretary of State's decision to ask for these inspections, after the details have been published of the alternative inspection work which was cancelled or deferred as a result, and of the opportunity cost of the inspections.

However, the people who are criticising Andrew Lansley about this are not always quite so quick to point out that the exercise found that more than fifty abortion clinics - slightly more than one in seven of those inspected - were not in fact complying with the law. Shadow Health secretary Andy Burnhan was careful to preface his remarks on BBC radio by accepting that the concerns which had been raised with the Secretary of State were serious.

It is always helpful after a job of work to look back at how things turned out and assess whether the action taken was successful and proportionate. I don't have a problem with people asking those questions about the decision to call for inspections. What I do have a major problem with is the people who are imputing a variety of pejorative political motivations to a minister for asking to have a potential problem investigated when he had concerns, the investigation showed he was right to have concerns, that the law was not being followed.

The laws concerned were designed to protect the position of women patients who are sometimes in a vulnerable position. If they are not being followed, that is a problem.

Suppose for a moment that Andrew Lansley had taken no action at all about his suspicions. Suppose it had subsequently come out in, say, two years' time, that over fifty clinics were failing to comply with laws designed to protect patients and staff, that the Secretary of State had been presented with evidence of this but had done nothing about it.

Could anyone reading this blog, if we were in the same physical space, look me in the eye and, with a straight face, deny that if this had been the sequence of events, most of the very same people who this week have been criticising Andrew Lansley for asking for inspections would have been criticising him, and probably demanding his resignation, for ignoring the fact that the law was being flouted,and thereby failing to protect staff and patients?

Sometimes politicians are damned if they do and damned if they don't.


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