Care regulator has failed, say MPs
The regulator for health and adult social care in England has failed to perform its role effectively and should not be allowed to take on new responsibilities until it has improved, a scathing report by MPs has said.
The Care Quality Commission (CQC) has come under a hail of criticism since it was revealed last year that it failed to respond to whistle-blowers' warnings of abuse of elderly residents at the Winterbourne View home in Bristol.
The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee said the CQC had been "poorly governed and led" and had focused too heavily on registration rather than inspections. The Department for Health, which oversees the CQC, had begun to take action only after it was clear it had been "struggling for some time".
Plans for the CQC to take over the functions of watchdogs which regulate fertility treatment and human tissue should not go ahead in 2015 as planned, said the cross-party committee. It welcomed the department's announcement of a "pause" for consultation on the proposed transfer of the responsibilities.
And it warned that plans to register 10,000 GP practices between September 2012 and April 2013 may reduce the watchdog to little more than a "postbox" role, as surgeries were being asked to assess for themselves whether they were compliant with quality and safety standards.
There were "serious concerns about the leadership, governance and culture of the commission", which had given incorrect information to Parliament, claiming to have completed twice as many inspections and reviews as it really had, and concerns about the CQC's use of "gagging clauses" in severance deals.
The CQC was created by merging the Healthcare Commission, Commission for Social Care Inspection and Mental Health Act Commission, but its total budget for 2010/11 was 6% lower than the combined budgets of its predecessors and it underspent that budget by £14 million, said the report.
The CQC said it was "disappointed" that the report did not recognise "significant" improvements in recent months. A spokesman said: "The number of unannounced inspections conducted by CQC continues to rise on a monthly basis - 2,400 in January alone. The unique regulatory system we have built is... delivering increasing benefits for people using health and social care services - as well as those whose rights are restricted under the Mental Health Act. Our focus, now and always, is to identify and tackle poor care and protect people who use services."
The CQC denied closing its "whistleblowing hotline" and claimed a team of call handlers had been specially trained to deal with whistleblowers. The organisation claimed to be on track for completing its work on GP registration.
Committee chair Margaret Hodge later accused the CQC of "being unable to cope" with its responsibilities and told BBC Radio 4 the body needed "effective leadership". She said: "There is an opportunity now to establish a new leadership and governance system, but our view was that the CQC was set up with an impossible task with too much to do and not enough money to do it."