The Care Quality Commission has just over four months to complete more than half of its annual inspections and is considering informing the Department of Health it will not meet the target.

Latest figures for 2 November show inspectors have completed 12,292 inspections since April 2012 against a full year target of 31,985.

The CQC is currently forecasting it will miss the target by almost 10,000 inspections. However, director of finance and corporate services John Lappin told the board on Tuesday £4.5m was being invested in overtime and bank inspectors in a bid to complete the required number of inspections.  

He said “strenuous efforts” were being made to recruit more inspectors. The CQC currently has 833 inspectors in post against a full complement of 955. Recruitment efforts have been hampered by central government restrictions, forcing arm’s length bodies to clear spending on recruitment with the Cabinet Office. This means the regulator had a £5m underspend on staff costs.

In its business plan for 2012-13, agreed with the DH, the regulator committed to inspecting at least one service at every NHS provider and every adult social care provider during the year. At current staffing levels this means each inspector would carry out 37 routine inspections a year, not including follow up visits to organisations where problems have been identified.

The move to annual inspections followed criticism of the CQC by the health select committee and others that it was carrying out too few inspections. Between April and November 2011 the CQC only carried out around 4,000.

At Tuesday’s meeting commissioner Kay Sheldon questioned whether the board should agree not to meet the target in order to protect quality.

Chief executive David Behan said activity levels appeared to be improving and he would come back to the board in December with a view on whether the target could be met or whether the CQC should adopt a more risk based approach for the remainder of the year.

He said: “The approach we need to take is to act as a coherent organisation that’s supporting it’s frontline to do what we ask them to do… I’m not going to give a commitment we’ll discharge our programme as set out of the beginning of the year.”