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CQC's latest wheeze to do away with inspection

“The top management of the Care Quality Commission achieves new heights of absurdity with their plan to become the GCHQ for care” says John Burton, the Head of the Association of Care Managers. (GCHQ is the government’s defence, security and anti-terrorism information gathering headquarters in Cheltenham.)

According to a report in Nursing Times, the CQC’s director of “intelligence”, Richard Hamblin, hopes to pilot a system next year that will monitor social networking sites to pick up complaints about care homes. Hamblin told Nursing Times that this initiative sprang from the problem posed by having such a large number of social care providers to regulate. (He failed to add that the other side of the problem was having such a small number of inspectors.)

CQC is developing this new system with the help of Qinetiq, the highly profitable, privatised defence research and technology firm, now adding social care to their repertoire. Hamblin claims that “There’s something about the nature of the care you get with social care which also makes it suited to this kind of information-gathering.” (Hamblin clearly regards himself as a leading expert in the nature of social care: this is a job for computers not inspectors.)

Yes, Mr Hamblin, please instruct the CQC call centre to advise those callers who are old-fashioned enough to use a telephone as follows: set up a Facebook account and make repeated entries about your issues. Very soon your concerns will be picked up by the new CQC web crawling system. And then what?

Well . . . CQC haven’t thought out that bit yet. Perhaps they could employ some inspectors to visit those care homes that are highlighted on the system? No, that would never work; it’s been tried before. As the experts tell us, care homes are not really suited to that kind of information gathering, and, in any case, for little more than £100 a year, residents cannot expect CQC to pay real human beings to fritter away their time visiting care homes. That £100 falls far short of what it takes to run the head office and to pay the top management and partners like Qinetiq, all of which have to be experts in social care.

The Association of Care Managers calls for a new approach to regulation and inspection of adult social care:
• Prioritise the quality of care and the rights and safety of the people who use the services – this is the primary purpose of inspection
• Inspect services as often as necessary but at least once a year
• Inspectors should aim to prevent bad practice rather than to condemn it after it has occurred and after residents have suffered
• Inspectors should be locally based and known – and accessible - to the public and users of the services
• Inspection reports should be written for the public
• Inspectors should work directly with residents and relatives, staff and managers of individual homes, NOT with the provider groups and organisations
• Inspectors should respond to and investigate complaints, and be willing and available to visit the service without notice and at any time
• Inspectors should understand how the services work and be willing and able (when appropriate) to help services to improve
• People who use services should have a formal and influential voice in the assessment of care.

We believe all of this can be achieved without increasing inspection fees. However, it will mean a total reorganisation of the CQC, dismantling the centralised bureaucracy and grandiose management structure, and setting up local Healthwatch inspection teams employing independent inspectors who will be judged by - and paid by - results.

ACM supports the effective inspection of care services, concentrating on the rights, safety and wellbeing of those who use the services.

John Burton, Head of the Association of Care Managers
December 2010