The care and health watchdog has failed in its duty to protect service-users and has become a “bureaucratic nightmare”, an MP has told its under-fire chair.
Labour MP Rosie Cooper told Dame Jo Williams, who chairs the Care Quality Commission, that her organisation needed to ensure “light years improvement” to its inspection work.
Dame Jo was giving evidence to the Commons health committee less than a month after the commission admitted failing to take action over concerns raised by a whistleblower about alleged abuse at Winterbourne View, a hospital for people with learning difficulties near Bristol.
Cooper told Dame Jo she was “seriously worried” about CQC’s “capacity to deliver”, and raised concerns about the high level of vacant posts for inspectors, after she heard that CQC had 350 job vacancies, including 121 inspectors.
The MP suggested this was “a long-term problem” and the public had been “put at risk because you have not had enough inspectors while you were busy internally reorganising yourselves”.
Dame Jo said this was “absolutely not true” and CQC had worked “entirely within the guidance we were given to make sure that we recruited people appropriately and people with the right skills to do the job”. She said CQC had offered jobs to about 70 people in the last few weeks.
Last month, CQC was forced to admit carrying out just 2,148 inspections of adult social care facilities in the six months to March 2011, compared with 6,840 from April to September 2009.
CQC said the drop – revealed in figures obtained by the magazine Community Care – was “largely” due to the need to register health and social care providers under its new regulatory system, which began to have an impact in the second half of 2009-10.
But there have been concerns that CQC’s new “risk-based” system of regulation, under which social care providers produce their own written self-assessments, while CQC gathers evidence from other sources and focuses on providers where there is evidence of concerns, could see some homes that appear good on paper avoiding inspection for up to five years.
There have also been concerns that the new system has been driven largely by the need to cut costs.
Cooper told Dame Jo that she believed CQC had become a “bureaucratic nightmare”, and added: “What we need to know is that somebody is listening… People are depending on you. You cannot fail and you have.”
Dame Jo insisted that CQC was in a “much stronger position than we were at the start of the year” and that inspections had risen to about 600 a month, which she hoped would eventually double.
She said there was a “considerable appetite” among the public and service-providers for CQC to be “more visible” and carry out more inspections.
She told the committee that CQC had asked the Department of Health for a 10 per cent increase in its budget – a rise of about £15 million a year – in order to increase the number of inspections, and to bring in more “experts by experience” (service-users who take part in inspections).