The Care Quality Commission (CQC) undertook a record high of 21,126 care home inspections in the past year* (see graph below) as it ramped up its enforcement activity ahead of a raft of new powers given to it in the Care Act, says research by Thomson Reuters legal business, the world’s leading source of intelligent information for businesses and professionals.
Thomson Reuters says that care home inspections have more than quadrupled over the last three years, from just 5,178 in 2010/11. This follows intense political and public pressure in the wake of high-profile care home scandals such as that involving the Winterbourne View care home in 2011.
- More than 21,000 care home inspections in a year as CQC reacts to abuse scandals
- Compliance burden growing for care homes as new Care Act enters law
These scandals have prompted the Government to hand the CQC extensive new powers to sanction failing care homes through the Care Act 2014, which received Royal Assent in May.
Under the new Act, the CQC now has the power to begin immediate prosecutions without notice of care provider in cases of serious failures of care. Prior to the introduction of the Act, the CQC was required to serve a notice against the provider before prosecuting, and if the provider complied with the notice it could take no further action.
In addition, the CQC has new powers to make ‘publicity orders’, which require the failing care provider to publicise the conviction or other sanction made against it. It can also ban owners and managers of failing homes from operating within the sector.
Tim Spencer-Lane, a lawyer and author of the Care Act Manual, to be published on August 31 2014 by Thomson Reuters, says that dealing with the CQC’s new powers granted by the Act will be a substantial challenge to care homes and their legal advisers.
“The CQC is now a completely different animal – one with a lot more teeth,” says Spencer-Lane. “Care homes need to be prepared to deal with an organisation that now has the power to prosecute them without notice. That means that providers have to be sure that they are meeting their legal responsibilities or face action under the new Act, – this is particularly important with an average of almost 60 unannounced inspections a day taking place over the past year.”
“The CQC has been criticised in the past by official reports and in the press for its handling of the Winterbourne View and Ash Court scandals, and is under a lot of pressure to root out any failings in the sector.”
“It will be very keen to ensure that it does not miss, or fail to act, on any problems that it identifies through its inspection regime,” adds Spencer-Lane. “With the weapons now at its disposal, the CQC no longer has any excuses for poor performance in addressing abuse.”
Concerns raised over CQC’s capacity to fulfil new financial monitoring role
Thomson Reuters says that the CQC has also been given the power to monitor the finances of large care home providers, and inform local authorities if they are in financial difficulty. This is aimed at preventing a repeat of the Southern Cross care homes insolvency. The FTSE 350 group, which owned 750 care homes, went into administration in 2011 after breaching its banking covenants.
Tim Spencer-Lane notes that concerns have been raised in Parliament over the CQC’s ability to take on this new role, as the organisation has no experience of financial monitoring of this type.
“The CQC is staffed by professionals with expertise in the health and social care sector, not accountants,” says Spencer-Lane. “In order to handle its new role, the CQC will have to recruit a team of professionals with skills and experience in this type of work, or outsource the work to specialists.”
“That means the future level of Government funding for the organisation is vital – without the money to build its financial monitoring capabilities, there is a risk that these reforms might not work.”