Recent inspection reports by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) have revealed levels of care described as “appalling” by the Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley. Three out of twelve hospitals assessed in spot checks were reportedly not meeting the basic standards which they are legally obliged to deliver.

The CQC found examples of patients not being helped to eat meals, meaning some consumed no food, or having too little to drink because fluids were left out of their reach. Some staff were found to be treating patients disrespectfully, whilst others were not assessing whether patients were underweight or malnourished.  

Dr Peter Carter, general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, commented that some of the concerns raised in the report were shocking and there was simply no excuse for failing to treat patients with the respect and dignity they deserved. He added that ongoing job losses across the NHS led to increased pressure on nurses’ time and a risk of too few staff to ensure patient safety. He said “frontline care is inevitably going to be affected”.

The CQC itself has not escaped severe criticism. Its reports coincide with the secret filming of patient abuse broadcast by Panorama (Undercover Care: The Abused Exposed) on 31 May 2011 (BBC).

The programme showed staff pinning residents to the floor and one patient being forced into the shower fully dressed and then put outside until she shook from cold. The abuse was taking place despite concerns having been relayed to the CQC and following inspections by the CQC which apparently revealed nothing untoward. Four arrests have since been made and the owners of the hospital, Castlebeck, have apologised and suspended 13 employees.

Paul Burstow, the Social Care Minister, has ordered a review of the CQC’s failure to investigate a whistleblower’s account of abuse at a Bristol care home. The Commons Health Committee will also launch a more wide-ranging inquiry into the commissioning of social care in the Autumn.

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