Drop in Care Quality Commission inspections “unacceptable”

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Drop in Care Quality Commission inspections “unacceptable”

13th September 2011

A medical negligence expert has said that any risk to patient safety caused as a result of a drop in the number of Care Quality Commission (CQC) inspections to hospitals and care homes, is ‘unacceptable.’

Jacqui Hayat, a partner at Fentons Solicitors LLP, was commenting after a Health Select Committee report revealed a 70% fall in the number of CQC inspections in the past year following last October’s introduction of the regulator’s new registration system for providers.

“Inspections were particularly low between October and December 2010 and 55% lower in January to March 2011, compared to how they were the previous year,” said Jacqui. “This simply isn’t good enough. By early summer 2011, the CQC had registered 23,000 organisations with the time spent processing each of these inevitably drawing resources away from fulfilling their key role - that of inspections.”

Defending the fall in the number of inspections, the CQC said the sharp drop reflected the huge demands facing staff having to implement new registration systems for thousands of health and social care providers. MPs have accused the regulator of ‘distorting priorities,’ with too much emphasis on bureaucracy and a so-called ‘tick-box culture,’ claiming they failedto prioritise work effectively or spell out any difficulties they were facing earlier.

The CQC was established in April 2009 following the abolition of its predecessor commissions - the Commission for Social Care Inspection, the Healthcare Commission and the Mental Health Act Commission. The regulator was then ordered to take on the additional responsibility of registering providers, with the aim being to assess hospitals, care homes, GPs and private sector groups against a set of standards to ensure they were fit to practice.

“The CQC is not a licensing provider,” said Jacqui. “The regulator’s core function is to ensure patient safety and well-being. This is their primary objective and it is incredibly frustrating to see their role compromised by too many resources being over-burdened with having to register providers at the cost of inspections.

“The totally unrealistic expectations forced upon the CQC to initiate what was effectively a licensing regime introduced without the necessary testing, instruction or specific role-definition that was so clearly needed from the outset, has inevitably meant priorities have been blurred,” added Jacqui.

The CQC was widely condemned recently for failing to act earlier over numerous abuse concerns involving vulnerable adults at Winterbourne View, a residential care home near Bristol where shocking undercover footage of bullying and physical abuse was later exposed by a BBC Panorama programme.

“Cases like the Winterbourne View debacle emphasise the need for robust inspection regimes,” said Jacqui, “and highlight just how important a role intelligence can play in instigating targeted inspections following, for example, concerns from whistleblowers or complaints made by families who may have witnessed maltreatment when visiting loved ones in hospitals or care homes.

“The CQC has an incredibly important role to fulfil and there is undoubtedly a huge amount of pressure on them to perform,” she said. “However, it is important to acknowledge that the CQC took on the work of three specific previous regulators, each with their own existing workloads,and for them to operate effectively with this much responsibility upon their shoulders it is crucial they are provided with clear objectives as well as the appropriate funding and resources.

“The primary aim of the CQC is to carry out inspections and for that mission to be hindered by understaffing or overburdening with unrealistic demands is unacceptable,” said Jacqui. “Patient safety must always be the priority.”

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Fentons has a specialist department experienced in handling claims relating to medical negligence.

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Read more: BBC