The CQC recently implemented an updated version of its factual accuracy check (‘FAC’) guidance, as part of its improvement of the factual accuracy process. It follows a consultation run by the CQC last year and deals with the process whereby providers can challenge areas of a draft CQC report that they believe are factually incorrect or where evidence in the report is incomplete.

Whilst the overall nature of the guidance remains substantively similar, there are a number of important changes that health and social care providers should be aware of.

Key changes

1. Response Format

It is now mandatory for providers to submit their responses via the CQC’s new online response form, save for exceptional circumstances that the CQC must be informed of immediately. A link to the online form will be emailed to the registered person at the same time as the draft inspection report. This is a shift from the previous guidance, whereby the CQC ‘strongly recommended’ that their online factual accuracy challenge was used. The online FAC form also now contains a character limit for the response to each point, which currently sits at a fairly restrictive 975 characters.

2. Grounds for Factual Accuracy Challenges

Under the new guidance, the three head of challenge remain the same as before: Section A for typographical or numerical errors; Section B for information that contributed to a judgement which the provider believes to be factually incorrect; and Section C for additional or omitted information that the provider feels should be considered.

It is worth noting that the addendum that previously existed for Section B regarding challenges to the interpretation or importance given to information has been removed. This is not to say however that providers are now prevented from making the case that the information, though factually correct, has been wrongly interpreted by the CQC. This information could still be included under Section B.

3. Response Timeframe

The updated guidance clarifies that providers have 10 working days from the date of the email enclosing the draft report and the online response form within which to submit their comments to the CQC for consideration. The guidance emphasises that this 10 day period will only be extended in exceptional circumstances, about which the CQC should be notified in writing, immediately. The guidance unfortunately does not provide any indication as to what might constitute such an ‘exceptional circumstance’.

4. Post-Inspection Changes

A welcome change is the ability for providers to send the CQC information about actions taken since the inspection that may address concerns raised or included in the draft report. Whilst these changes will not impact decisions about ratings, they could be referenced in an amended version of the draft report, or effect a decision on enforcement action.

5. Confidentiality

The new guidance tightens the restrictions focused on confidentiality, so that providers will not be provided with the full notes taken by an inspector during an inspection or given any information about individuals who spoke to the inspector or shared concerns with CQC. The CQC does say however that it will consider requests for specific extracts of notes on a particular issue where they would be required for clarity.

The above changes reflect a more regimented approach from the CQC to factual accuracy challenges. The ability for providers to be able to dispute aspects of draft reports that they believe are inaccurate is clearly a crucially important one, however changes such as a tight character limit for comments may not make this vital process any easier.

However, as mentioned above, a notable and desirable change comes from the option for providers to furnish the CQC with information about changes made since an inspection. Health and social care providers should carefully consider how this tool can be utilised to maximum effect to ensure that the final report produced is a fair and balanced depiction of their service and any ongoing efforts to improve the care provision.