Health Secretary Andrew Lansley's spot checks on abortion clinics resulted in the Care Quality Commission cutting the number of inspections of hospitals and care homes as a result, it has been revealed.
The chairwoman of the health regulator wrote to the Department of Health, saying that the abortion investigation meant that 580 other inspections were "foregone" and that the total cost would be about £1 million.
The revelations are likely to fuel further accusations that the government is using abortions as a political issue. The British Pregnancy Advisory Service told The Huffington Post UK that the government is engaging in political manoeuvring over the issue of abortion by giving details of illegal activity to the press before providers or the police.
Lansley is said to have been "shocked" by the letter from the health regulator, saying that the CQC had not asked for more money to continue with its other responsibilities, but could have had it if it had done so.
According to the Daily Telegraph, Dame Jo Williams wrote on 23 March: "Such a request at short notice entails operation's management time in planning the visits, cancelling pre-planned inspections as well as the compliance inspector's time in carrying out the visits and drafting the reports.
"Add to this the anticipated enforcement activity that will inevitably arise and it is clear that this has a considerable impact on our capacity to deliver our annual targets."
Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham told the BBC Today programme that he found it hard not to draw the conclusion that Lansley was trying to get on the "front foot" whilst the unpopular health reforms were going through parliament.
He told Radio Four that though there were genuine concerns raised over the way some abortion clinics were operating, there were also questions over the way Lansley carried out the checks.
"It's clear from the letter that the CQC has serious misgivings about the way in which the spot checks were carried out" he told the BBC.
He also suggested that by carrying out the spot checks, Andrew Lansley was "chasing headlines".
Burnham pointed to the way that Andrew Lansley communicated the findings of the spot checks to a newspaper before the results were published by the independent regulator. By doing that Burham said that many clinics were alerted to the inspection, thus skewing the results.
BPAS told The Huffington Post UK they were upset that they had not been personally informed of the serious allegations, especially at a time when abortion providers already feel "under attack".
"There are so many ways he could improve provision for women. He's suddenly ordered these raids on clinics. It's so worrying because you expect it from Nadine Dorries but for the Secretary of State to start using abortion in this way it can only go one way and we've seen that in the States."
Describing the abortion inspections as a "witch hunt" they stressed that "this appears to be a very big political statement and that is just really, really frightening for providers.
"When you start using that kind of language ... then you attract extremists."
Last Friday, pro-life campaigners, 40 Days For Life, met with a noisy counter protest from pro-choice activists outside BPAS headquarters in central London.
Commenting afterwards, Alan Hopes, the Auxiliary Bishop of Westminster, who attended the prayer vigil said he was there to stand up against the “culture of death”.
“The large number of people who attended the prayer vigil shows that increasing numbers are opposed to our society’s culture of death and are horrified that in 2010 almost 190,000 abortions took place in England and Wales.”
Kate Smurthwaite, vice chair of pro-choice group Abortion Rights, said she was concerned about a mainstream bishop supporting an "extremist" group.
The government announced last month that the investigation had shown that some doctors were breaking the law by "pre-signing" abortion consent forms.
Spot checks at more than 250 abortion clinics found evidence of blank forms being signed in anticipation of patients seeking a termination.
The law states that, except in emergencies, two doctors must agree for a woman to have an abortion.
Although doctors do not have to see the woman in person, they must certify that they are aware of her circumstances and why she wants to go ahead with the procedure.
Nurses, counsellors and other healthcare professionals can assess the woman before the forms are signed.
Of more than 250 clinics investigated, it was thought 15% to 20% might be breaking the law.
Conservative MP Nadine Dorries called for the 1967 Abortion Act to be brought back before parliament after the revelations, "and redrafted to deal with the number of illegal abortions which take place every day".
A Department of Health spokeswoman said: "The CQC's statutory duty is to uphold the law.
"The CQC was one of the organisations who warned us of this issue at the time, and agreed with us that a programme of inspections should take place as a proportionate response to the serious allegations being made.
"We would expect the CQC, like any good regulator, to be able to prioritise its inspections and are told that in this case they did so, so that no patients were placed at risk.
"The CQC has around 900 inspectors, only some of whom were involved in these inspections, the vast majority of which were completed within four days."
Suggested For You
SUBSCRIBE AND FOLLOW
Get top stories and blog posts emailed to me each day. Newsletters may offer personalized content or advertisements.Learn more