The ‘Red Tape Challenge’ does Health and Social Care

Red Tape

We all knew it would come in time. This wonderful government idea to slash all that awful ‘red tape’ that stops people doing what the government otherwise would stop them doing finally arrives at Health and Social Care.

I had a brief look at some of the provisions detailed as ‘red tape’ for which the government is asking for comment and quite frankly, I am horrified.

What I might see as essential protections, they are presenting as ‘red tape’ and asking for feedback about potential abolition.

This is a consultation so it’s really important that as many people as possible to contribute and in the joyful spirit of openness, the website allows up to see the live commenting on others. I wonder how those with less technological access or knowledge are able to comment quite so openly about some of the provisions up in the air.

But openness and accessibility only seems to go so far and for the government departments responsible they seem to be after whipping up public distaste of ‘red tape’ although actually, we really do need to move from the idea that bureaucracy is necessarily bad.

There is a separate website entirely to focus on ‘ regulatory enforcement’ and where it might be unnecessary.I feel robust regulation (and thus, enforcement which has to follow as a result) is essential. The big problem with social care and health regulation since the CQC was established was the ‘light touch’ type approach which had been taken and the ‘back office’ regulation and not enough enforcement.  I really really hope that it is not cut back further. I want to see more regulation and stronger enforcement, not less of it.

But back to the ‘red tape challenge’. I want to share some of the provisions ‘up for discussion’ that the government has classed as ‘red tape’.  I’m solely concentrating on what is up under ‘Quality of Care and Mental Health Regulations’ as I felt that was the area I knew best. The numbers refer to the list of these ever so demanding provisions in the Excel list here.

39 is that oh so burdensome (!!!) regulation that requires the Care Quality Commission ‘to monitor and access for monitoring purposes, people who are deprived of their liberty’ and necessity to report this to the Department of Health.

40 is a nice one about requiring people ‘who assess Deprivation of Liberty’ to have an enhanced CRB.  – clearly unnecessary because.. er.. people who lack capacity and may potentially be subject to DoLs aren’t likely to be vulnerable, right? I think there’s an issue about effectiveness of CRBs in general but a bit worrying that that’s considered ‘red tape’.

43 is much more worrying as it is the obvious ‘red tape’ which introduced IMCAs as a safeguard for ‘those who have noone to speak on their behalf’ making them mandatory in abuse and review situations. RED TAPE??

55 is another ‘good one’ which ensures that IMHAs are ‘of an adequate standard’ because clearly, that is unnecessary (!?!)

Obviously there are many many more – I’ve just, for reasons of time, picked out a few that interest me personally but do have a look at them and COMMENT.

I’m frankly insulted that some of these provisions are even considered to be ‘red tape’  but as there’s an open consultation, it’s important that as many people as possible who know and understand the implications of removing them, to contribute.

If the government want to know what ‘red tape’ is in terms of adding unnecessary burdens, I’ll gladly explain about how useful (or not) it is to spend time recording how much time I spend on ‘smoking cessation’ work or time spent ‘clustering’ people according to diagnosis into tiny little tick boxes which are, clinically, unhelpful in order to get the ‘Payment by Results’ systems which will never work well, up and running. THAT’S red tape.

But it seems to be red tape that potentially infringes on the rights of those who might be least able to protect their own that they are classing as ‘red tape’ here.

Contribute to the consultation and let’s tell them how important some of these provisions are.

Oh, and someone should tell the Department of Health that the GSCC doesn’t exist anymore as they seem to have forgotten on their Professional Standards page (published this week!) but we know how much interest the Department of Health has in social work and social care so shouldn’t really be surprised.

Pic by Martin Deutsch@Flickr

Exposure and the CQC

Last night, ITV examined the state of residential care and regulation of the sector in Exposure. While I watched the programme through the lens of someone who has had significant experience of the sector, I’ve also followed the birthing pains of the Care Quality Commission avidly so some of the information given wasn’t ‘new’ to me. I probably didn’t approach the programme as an ‘average viewer’ might.

There were a few issues raised that I think useful to explore. The programme seemed to rightly raise the void of inspection that took place through the initial years in which the CQC was established. The organisation was established with less money than it’s predecessor bodies, the Healthcare Commission, the Mental Health Act Commission and the Commission for Social Care Inspection.  While focusing on registering services, the CQC dropped the ball on maintaining inspections and relying on previous ‘good and excellent’ reports to step back on regular on-site checks.

An ‘excellent’ service can fail very quickly if there are changing in funding and personnel in a home, for example and the lack of attention to frequent unannounced inspections was something that was highlighted in this programme.

However while not resolving the organisation of responsibility, this focus has changed and the CQC has stated that regular, unannounced inspections are taking place now.

The website has long been a gripe as far as I’m concerned. There seems to be less information with each iteration and the scope and searchability isn’t as helpful as it used to be. The CQC website remains the only one I have come across at work which has become progressively less user friendly  with each iteration  (and yes, I have always given feedback on the changes when it’s been an option!). The lack of reports from both predecessor organisations (for example, not being able to access CSCI reports or reports when an organisation has changed hands – as was highlighted in the programme) is a big issue. As members of the general public, we can determine how useful or not historic information is but we have to have access to it. More information is better.

Reports need to be very easily understandable and clear about what is expected and what good and bad care look like. They are better than they were. People liked star ratings because they were easy to understand. They were abolished but the star ratings remained on the website for a long time afterward which was poor information in the extreme. While the government excellence scheme was shelved, I think there’s a real desire for people to have an understanding beyond a care home being compliant or non-compliant – people want to know if St Matthew’s Home in Hull is better than St Francis’ Home in Bridlington and a TripAdvisor type comment site won’t always provide an independent and authoritative understanding of that. I’m not sure if it’s the place for the regulator but it was in the past and understanding what good care looks like as well as bad is something that Behan, the new CEO of the CQC has stated he wants to work on.

The footage of Cynthia Bower at the select committee was positively painful and her links with Mid Staffordshire made her a particularly poor choice of CEO initially. They could never establish any credibility in the sector with that background and proved that she was not up to the task. The only concern was how much damage she did in the meantime.

I do have more hope with the new CEO, David Behan and some of the changes that have taken place but the programme showed the need for a strong and authoritative regulator within health and social care.

The problem is that all these cuts happened in the regulator as commissioners like local authorities were hammered by substantial cuts which – certainly in my experience –  have seen monitoring units slashed. You see the monitoring teams – they were the so-called ‘back office’ which were cut but the input that had on day to day care is significant.

The only way forward is for commissioners (local authorities/NHS and yes, private funders), regulators and providers to work very closely regarding responsibilities and tie information in with each other but most important to make that sure those who use the services and local communities, families and advocates can understand and know cohesive lines of communication with organisations responsible for developing and regulating good care.

It doesn’t help for organisations to be siloed when life is more complex and while I would never want to absolve those government bodies like the CQC of their responsibilities, I think the structures and information streams need to be better regarding lines of responsibility.

If the organisation isn’t able to do its job properly due to cuts, it needs to return to the government and tell it.

I have become more hopeful that there will be a change in culture in the regulator with a change in leadership. Use of more and more ‘experts by experience’ and experienced specialist professionals in inspections is also a positive move but it’s not good enough to stand still.

As Barbara Young said in the programme, the CQC needs to the a regulator for people and particularly for people who have their voices quietened by organisations which can display power in terms of delivering care. It isn’t good enough to rely on families complaining as many people in residential services don’t have families who visit. Proactive regulation needs to happen alongside proactive safeguarding investigations by local authorities and proactive monitoring. Organisations which provide care can’t resolve their own responsibilities to provide quality care. If money is cut by local authorities, it has to be challenged and challenged hard before quality slips rather than afterwards as an excuse.

There is room for hope though. I do think the CQC consultation is positive and the move towards regular unannounced visits is a good one. It should never have been otherwise but we can’t change the past.

If we want a regulator that works, it has to be given the tools and the resources to regulate in a way that we want and expect it to. That costs. So be it, it is a necessary cost.

I want a responsive, responsible, proactive and mostly a listening regulator. I’m willing to give them time seeing that some progress has been made, but there really does need to be a change noticed in the reports that feed back to Parliamentary committees and published reports next year.

Please, I want to subsidise miscreants! – reflections on the regulation consultation

Community Care today reports in digestible form on a Law Commission consultation opening today on the regulation of Health and Social Care. As someone who represents before both health and social care regulators, there was much to make my hackles rise in here, But I want to pick up on just one thing, as reported by Community Care:

One… proposal is that ministers will be able to give regulators the power to… make them pay the costs of their conduct hearings. While the commission says this could prove controversial, the current system of covering the costs through registration fees raises the question of “why good professionals should be expected to subsidise the miscreant” [page 196 of the report].

Well, it should be controversial, although when I reflect on some of the censorious comments that get made about the latest misconduct cases to be reported, I have my doubts – maybe this sentiment about subsidising the miscreants is widely held?

It is, however, misguided for at least two important reasons.

We will all pay for the miscreants, come what may

Let’s not beat about the bush, regulatory proceedings are expensive:

For example, information released by the GSCC under the 2000 Freedom of Information Act reveals that, in one case, they spent £34,551.62 plus VAT on legal representation—a cost way beyond the finances of the vast majority of social workers… [Ken McLaughlin British Journal of Social Work [2010] volume 40(1) pp311-327]

Have you got an annual salary or more to spare just in case? Thought not! Take careful note – the regulator’s costs tend to be vastly greater than the registrant’s costs, and this proposal is for you to take on the unquantifiable bottomless pit risk of the regulator’s costs, not just your own. A risk you can’t avoid once caught up. Under the current GSCC regime, once the ball has started rolling, you can’t simply agree to drop off the register, nor even agree to negotiate a sanction – the process – and risk – rolls on remorselessly regardless.

As a result, if professional registration carries with it a risk of liability of this magnitude, professionals of any sense will protect themselves against potential liability by membership schemes or insurance – as many health professionals already do. And, of course, the underpinning principle of insurance, even if weighted, is precisely that risk is spread amongst the populaton that carries the risk so as to make it affordable.

To put it another way, “good professionals will subsidise miscreants”, out of pure self-interest, but now with an element of profit for the insurance companies thown in, which is not there when we subsidise “miscreants” only through our registration fees.

Personally, I’d opt to share the risk, but without the profit motive – wouldn’t you?

There but for the grace of God

The other point is that my long experience is that most people in front of misconduct committees don’t deserve the epithet “miscreants”.

So often, my clients are bemused about how they came to be here. That character flaw. That momentary lapse of judgement. That backlog caused by an excessive caseload. That case where the media was crying for a scapegoat. That step I didn’t take which, with hindsight, I can see would have helped. That personality clash with my line manager. That decision I took when no supervisor was available. That was professional misconduct?

Sometimes, of course, it isn’t: statistics for mid 2010 (when there was a rather larger number of cases being decided than now) showed that less than half of registrants coming to full hearings were unfit to practice (suspended or removed) and more than 10% had not committed misconduct. Half were admonished. Would you want this kind of costs risk for a ticking off – one that you may even accept you deserve?

Which is why I say, there but for the grace of God. And why I happily offer to share the risk with you, and ask you to share it with me.

You can respond to the consultation here: http://lawcommission.justice.gov.uk/consultations/1755.htm

CareAdvisor

Yesterday, it was announced that the government was going to set up a website, the details of which would be unveiled  in the Spring White Paper on Adult Social Care which could bring a kind of ‘Trip Advisor’ model of rating and commenting to providers of care homes and nursing homes.

Sounds good so far. I certainly welcome more open and accessible information for those who are choosing care homes but there are some real and obvious differences that need to be highlighted between the choices that are available to those who are picking hotels in New York City and those who are choosing care homes for Granny in Wallsend.

On a positive note, Burstow claims that these plans came from user-led discussion groups which shows that he is listening but there are some important points that have to be taken into consideration, lest this is seen as a way of trying to provide regulation on-the-cheap because the actual regulatory body – the CQC – is unable to carry out its function.
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National Audit Office CQC Report

In a timely moment (although possibly not for the CQC), the National Audit Office today publish a report into the workings of the Care Quality Commission (CQC). Yesterday the Public Inquiry in Mid Staffordshire wound up and before looking at the NAO (National Audit Office) report, it’s worth pulling a few quotes from the summing up in the inquiry as they make pertinent points.

The issue of what counts as an ‘inspection’ of a service

Right, so an inspection doesn’t mean what members of the public might think of as an inspection.  It may simply mean looking at the systems and the paperwork; is that right?
”Answer:  It may.”

This should be borne in mind when the CQC parade their ‘inspection’ figures around. An ‘inspection’ can be a form that is sent out to the provider for them to complete themselves.
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Is the CQC fit for purpose?

There was an interesting article in the Guardian yesterday about the Care Quality Commission which was set up as a new regulatory body for health and social care in 2009.

The CQC is headed by Cynthia Bower at a salary of £195,000 pa who was previously the Chief Executive of the West Midlands Strategic Health Authority – responsible for Stafford Hospital at the time it was found to have been providing substandard care.

How she was able to take post at the CQC is quite staggering to me, as an outsider but there she is, responsible for the regulation of health and adult social care services. You’d think it was the opening of a black comedy. Maybe it is.

There are some chilling facts that the Guardian have uncovered and they deserve repeating – over and over again – because the CQC is responsible for the regulation – not only of hospitals but of every care home and domiciliary care agency in England.
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