MPs have criticised the leadership of the Care Quality Commission for failing to stand up to ministers in the face of “unrealistic statutory obligations”.
The CQC has been charged with registering thousands of dental practices, private ambulance providers and out of hours services by April 2011.
The highly critical report from the health select committee concluded the regulator’s priorities became “distorted” by the pressure of its new work, leading to a 70 per cent reduction in inspections between 2009 and 2011.
It welcomed the extension of the deadline for registering GP practices until 2013, but said the decision had come too late.
The report states: “The CQC should have identified the difficulties inherent in the regulations early in the registration process and made clear to the government that unless modifications were made it would not be able adequately to fulfil its duty to monitor and inspect providers.
“The senior leadership of the organisation had a responsibility to communicate this to the government persuasively and persistently.”
The report also criticised the CQC leadership for allowing vacancies to double to almost 300 between June 2010 and June 2011 due to the public sector recruitment freeze.
It claimed the delays indicated “a failure to react with urgency to a problem that was severely undermining the organisation’s compliance function.”
The CQC has asked for an increase in funding of 10 per cent. But the committee said it had concerns about the way the CQC has “handled and prioritised its resources” and wanted to see a breakdown of how it arrived at the 10 per cent figure.
The committee rejected the idea that the CQC should merge with Monitor. It was supportive of Monitor’s general direction of travel, but criticised proposals to make governors more responsible for financial oversight.
A CQC spokesman said the report highlighted the “major” challenges the CQC had faced but insisted the number of inspections was now “rising rapidly” and almost 100 new inspectors had been recruited.
Funding discussions with the DH are ongoing and a consultation on the way it regulates organisations is due to be launched.
Committee chair Stephen Dorrell said the CQC should focus on organisational culture during their inspections as the culture of the NHS had “a long way to go”. Speaking at a press conference to mark the launch of the report Mr Dorrell said a sign the culture had been successfully improved would be when “professional staff in the NHS can raise concerns without being referred to as whistleblowers”.
Asked if he was surprised the management of the CQC was still in place, Mr Dorrell said he welcomed the fact that the leadership “has now made clear that it’s doing some things that in view of the committee should have been done before”.