Body looking into allegations against Serco is tasked with oversight of the health service and all its contracters
The body that regulates both NHS and private health and social care services in England is the Care Quality Commission.
Established in 2009 in a merger of previous regulators in a bonfire of the quangoes initiated by Labour, it has been dogged by controversy. It was set up with a much smaller budget than the three regulators it replaced but with a much larger number of care providers to register.
Its chief executive, Cynthia Bower, resigned in Febraury after criticism that the watchdog was not fit for purpose. She was criticised in an earlier role for failing in oversight of the Mid Staffordshire hospital, where hundreds of patients died as a result of poor care.
The CQC was also condemned for failing to investigate a whistleblower’s allegations of abuse at a Bristol care home which was later exposed by Panorama.
The Department of Health and the House of Commons public accounts committee have both conducted reviews of the regulator published in the last few months, which are highly critical of its performance. Its ability to carry out inspections was specifically questioned by the PAC.
Whistleblowers on the Cornwall out-of-hours service run by Serco under private contract to the local primary care trust have been frustrated that there has been a gap in regulation.
Out-of-hours services were only required to register with the CQC in April this year. Before that the only oversight was through the primary care trust that commissioned them.
The Cornwall PCT’s own performance was last measured in October 2009 by the CQC, when it downgraded the quality of its commissioning from “good” to “fair”.
Whistleblowers have also expressed concern as to whether the inspection will now be wide enough. The CQC said that its inspectors would make a judgment about whether a service complied with standards at the time of the inspection, and would look at records of staff training, records of care received, and shift rotas but would not normally look at historic performance data unless it was considered to have a bearing on how care was currently being provided.
In a further blow to the CQC’s reputation, it sacked one of its inspectors in April and referred the matter to the police after an internal investigation prompted by a care home owner. The inspector was subsequently arrested on suspicion of bribery and money laundering, having allegedly pressurised owners of care homes to pay for favourable inspection reports.
A spokesman added that the CQC’s progress in improving its own practices had been recognised by the DoH in Febraury and that it had increased its inspection team.
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