bpas: Inflating the cost of abortion services

Inflating the cost of abortion services

by Clare Murphy, BPAS Director of Press and Public Policy, in response to the claim that ‘taxpayers spend £30million a year more on abortion than previously thought’.

Quite frequently, politicians who do not like abortion ask parliamentary questions as to the cost to the public purse of women ending their pregnancies. They seem particularly exercised about what was paid out to the independent sector – primarily comprised of the charities bpas and Marie Stopes – for these services. All of which is fair enough, providing their questions elicit honest answers – rather than figures that are, quite simply, made up.

Following questioning over the summer by Lord Alton as to what the cost was ‘to the National Health Service of providing abortions in (a) NHS hospitals, and (b) approved independent sector places in 2010’ and in follow-up, whether the government ‘encourages value for money in the purchase of abortions from the independent sector; and whether they collect and make available information on the charges made by the various suppliers of such services’, the Department of Health has come up with a new formulation to answer these queries, as reported in the Daily Telegraph on 22 November. The number of abortions carried out in the independent sector will be multiplied by the NHS’ own average internal tariff for termination of pregnancy.

The problem is that the Department itself accepts that this figure is unlikely to produce an accurate figure, notably because it is ‘aware that contracts with independent sector providers are generally at a lower price than the national tariff’. So while the NHS standard tariff may be £680, our average is more like £425 – likely to be mirrored across the independent sector. This means the DH’s figure of £75m paid to the independent sector in 2010 is likely to be overstated by about 50 per cent.

Perhaps if we operated in a less contentious area, we would be held up by those seeking to ‘open up’ the NHS as an example of how contracting out to the independent sector saves the taxpayer money while delivering high standards of specialist care to the women who need it. That is certainly not to argue that all NHS caseload should be handed over to independent organisations – far from it. It’s very important the NHS retains a stake in abortion care, not least for the sake of women who cannot be treated in stand-alone units and to ensure future doctors are exposed to this particular area of women’s reproductive healthcare. But it is also important to recognise the role that the independent sector plays in supporting the NHS’ work in abortion services; not least, by delivering high quality services at a lower cost.

Whether independent abortion services were costing the taxpayer £75m or 75p, Lord Alton, the serial questioner on this particular topic, would still keep asking it. But it is unfortunate that at a time of public concern about spending and a new enthusiasm among anti-abortion politicians to deploy the language of American pro-life activists – making liberal reference to the ‘multi-million pound abortion industry/factory/ assembly line’ – such figures pass muster. Indeed it’s a shame Lord Alton didn’t just call us to find out – we would have happily pointed him in the direction of our page of the Charity Commission website, where all our accounts are published and free for all to see.

Abortion costs £30m higher than previously thought. By Martin Beckford, and Simon Caldwell. Daily Telegraph, 22 November 2011 

First published by Abortion Review