The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has raised concerns about the Care Quality Commission (CQC) in relation to staff shortages and weaknesses in consistency, accuracy and timelines of inspection reports.
Chairwoman Meg Hillier highlighted an “alarming lack of attention to detail” when reports were prepared. On one occasion an NHS trust told the committee it found more than 200 errors in a draft CQC report, including data inaccuracies.
The cross-party committee also said that the regulator had "struggled to recruit inspectors and analysts" and as a result it was "not meeting the trajectory it set itself for completing inspections". By mid-April the vacancy rate was 34% for inspectors, 36% for senior analysts and 35% for managers. Staff turnover in 2014-15 was nearly 8%, which is higher than the CQC's 5% target. In addition, the PAC called on the CQC to respond more quickly to patient safety concerns, particularly those raised by whistleblowers.
MPs have criticised inspectors for taking too long to produce reports on hospitals and other services, and have stated that the CQC “is not yet an effective regulator”. They warned that the inspectorate needed to demonstrate how it would cope with “substantial” planned funding cuts of between 25 and 40%. Because of staff shortages, it is already failing to meet its targets for inspecting health facilities, according to the PAC report.
NHS providers who gave evidence also stated that there was great variation in the quality of judgements made about hospitals, GP surgeries and care services. However, the report did acknowledge that progress had been made at the CQC since 2012.
David Behan, the inspectorate’s chief executive, said: “These are not new issues and we have been working hard to improve our performance. We have reported on our progress in public every month and we will continue to do so. What is essential is that we do not take any shortcuts, which could compromise the quality of the important work that we do. We have surveyed the public and they tell us they are increasingly confident in our new and more rigorous approach to inspection that provides them with better information about the quality and safety of care. We are not complacent and are working confidently to continue to improve what we do and how we do it.”
A Department of Health spokesperson added: “We welcome the PAC's recognition of the CQC's significant improvements since 2012 but we know that more needs to be done. We want our NHS to be the safest healthcare system in the world and the CQC is crucial to this, which is why we are fully committed to supporting the CQC to continue to improve and evolve as a regulator.”
Rebecca Morgan, associate in Penningtons Manches’ clinical negligence team, commented: “The commission acts as the independent regulator of health and adult social care in England. In 2012 the body was granted new powers in a bid to enhance its efforts to drive up standards across the NHS and care home sector. It is therefore very important that any concerns are raised with the aim of improving the way the CQC collects, acts upon and publishes information in order to reduce any risks posed to patients.”