I’ve been generally critical of the CQC (Care Quality Commission) since it’s establishment. I’ve been particularly critical of what I have seen to be the failings of a regulator for health and adult social care services where I have felt that there has been an impact, by the lack of robust regulation, on the lives of people who use and need the services which are provided.
My main concerns have been about a move away from regular announced and unannounced inspections and a move towards desk-based inspections. However the CQC has been re-evaluating this approach and with a new Chief Executive in David Behan and an outgoing Chair – I wonder if it’s time for me to evaluate my own attitude to the regulator for health and adult social care services in England.
I could never understand how Cynthia Bower was appointed in the wake of the Mid-Staffordshire scandal. It seemed to be a strange appointment. Starting a new agency by merging the functions of the Healthcare Commission, the Commission for Social Care Inspection and the Mental Health Act Commission was always going to be hard. This combined with new responsibilities to regulate services in different ways seemed to have led the eye to be taken off the ball as far as current standards went with the focus being on bringing new regulatory frameworks in amid low staffing.
As far as social care is concerned (and that’s the area i know best) this move away from regular on-the-ground inspection of services combined with cuts in funding both to the organisation and to local authorities who might have had their own, more robust, monitoring teams, led to concerns about quality in the services being provided.
However, the CQC seems to be moving on in terms of re-establishing consistent and regular unannounced visits to services and there seems to be a shift in terms of the priorities which they are placing on promoting quality of care over merely meeting the lowest acceptable standards.
I read through the consultation for the strategy of the CQC between 2013-2016 (and, incidentally provided feedback because it is, after all, a consultation!) and it left me more hopeful that the sector might be developing a regulator that it needs.
Six ‘priorities’ are laid out for the next three years.
1. Making greater use of information and evidence to achieve the greatest impact
In this section the CQC acknowledges the move back to regular unannounced inspections and explains the way that information gathered relating to risk has fed into the way that inspections are conducted and that this needs to continue and strengthen in the future.
‘Building an evidence base’ about what works in regulation includes looking at overseas models. Obviously, I’d welcome a fuller evidence-based approach with the caveat that sometimes past excellence can change to present mediocrity by one new member of staff and there will always be some random elements at play in this sector – an area where I think the CQC has failed in the past by simply judging future potential risk by past performance.
The CQC is increasingly going to look at regulating different services in different ways with the same (presumably) framework as inspectors are professional regulators rather than experts in specific sectors. GPs and Dentists need to be monitored in a different way from a nursing home, a large general hospital or a private ambulance service. It seems to make sense.
Using information from different sources is also crucial. The CQC report mentions this. I expect they would feed heavily from local authority complaints in the field of social care and the information we (as LAs) get regarding care providers and particularly our contracting team which monitor quality and complaints. If someone from the CQC came into our LA and spoke to social workers directly about different home care providers and residential homes, I expect they might get a broader view.
2. Strengthening how we work with strategic partners
Here the CQC mention the changes coming in the NHS and the need to link with organisations such as ADASS, Monitor, presumably new Clinical Commissioning Groups and professional organisations.
I hope there will be a strong voice for Social Work in the form of the College of Social Work in feeding information back to the CQC. I might be on a bit of a theme here but I think the CQC can learn an enormous amount about adult social care from social workers and I think they really need to utilise the knowledge we have of local areas and areas around quality. While I will contact the CQC with major concerns/complaints about residential homes, I’m not asked to feedback about niggles or, for that moment about fantastic services. I’d love to see these links work not just at a managerial level but between inspectors and social workers in the locations they regulate.
3. Continue building better relationships with the public
For a regulator to have public confidence, the public have to know what they do, what they are responsible for and what they are not responsible for. The CQC can do their best but if people don’t know about it or have different expectations, they are unlikely to get the message across positively.
New ‘Healthwatch’ organisations will promote local links and input into inspections and the CQC is building on its ‘Experts by Experience’ programme building people who use services and carers of those who use services into the framework. I watched a video from an inspector where she talked about using an ‘expert by experience’ and referred to a carer of a person with dementia who helped her in an inspection of a residential care home. I’d hope that people who have dementia and may have cognitive impairments are also built into the process of being experts by experience. It is vital that users and carers are involved and different models built to encourage this involvement but that assumptions are not made that because someone may have a cognitive impairment that they cannot speak for themselves.
Improving access to reports would also be good. Improving the searchability of the CQC site would be a massive bonus. It’s become increasingly difficult to search and find information and seems to constantly take steps backwards in terms of usability.
I think it would be helpful if there were comment forms under each service for public to send information from the website directly to the relevant inspector. Inspectors could have a greater visibility online and using broader social media to communicate with the public – not just through PR people.
I want to know what inspectors do every day. I’d love to see a regular blog from an inspector (without needing to mention any specific services but just with broad themes – generally frontline blogs are more interesting than management blogs!)
4. Building relationships with organisations providing care
This is an area I probably have less experience in. It explains that the organisation wants to provide quality reports and improve the feedback given to providers by inspectors. It’s often about links and nurturing positive links over time but not allowing that to impede judgement when there are problems.
5. Strengthening the delivery of our unique responsibilities under the Mental Health and Mental Capacity Act
As an AMHP (Approved Mental Health Professional) and a BIA (Best Interests Assessor) I have a particular interest in matters relating to the Mental Health Act and the Mental Capacity Act.
I feel particularly the CQC have disappointed me (I know that will upset them!) about their knowledge or rather their lack of knowledge about Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards. I think good and thorough knowledge of DoLs should be a core question in every single inspection in every residential and nursing home and hospital in which they may apply. I have come across too many home managers who really should know better show an appalling lack of current knowledge about DoLs and believe that there are many many unauthorised deprivations of liberty that inspectors should be able to challenge homes and hospitals about.
Personally, I’ve made a number of third party referrals for assessments under DoLs and that’s just by people either allocated to me or situations I come across when visiting people in care homes or hospitals – there must be many many more that go unchallenged because the law is so fluid and complicated and I don’t have any faith that the CQC and those representing them on the ground know it.
I’d like to see better links between inspectors and Best Interests Assessors after all, we (should) have significant expertise in applying the DoLs and perhaps we could shadow inspectors and ask the questions that they don’t know to ask until they are trained up at least.
This is three years too late.
6. Continuing our drive to become a high-performing organisation
This section is about building a learning organisation and working out ways to measure progress. I know the organisation works with ‘professional regulators’ but I think something has been lost in not using people with expertise in health and social care to carry out inspections and to rely on generic ‘auditing’ experience but I can’t see that changing.
I do think there are hopeful signs though in these new priorities and wish the organisation well – we need a good, strong regulator that has the faith of the sector and I feel we will need it all the more as the NHS changes.
I am increasingly thinking that more link, better conversations and more co-production are the ways forward for the CQC and for health and adult social care in general.
Do feedback on the consultation though – we need lots of voices. The CQC say that they welcome feedback through social media – so this is my own response!
photo by vivido @ Flickr