The Care Quality Commission plans to suspend a “whole suite of activities” such as hygiene inspections if the flu pandemic worsens.
The April 2010 deadline for organisations to register with the regulator could also be postponed to help the NHS deal with any crisis, HSJ has learned.
The measures are being drawn up in response to potential staffing shortages at the commission and in the NHS. They are also intended to prevent the disease from spreading during inspection visits.
“We’ve been talking to the Department of Health about what we can do to lighten the inspection regime.”
The CQC has agreed a list of activities that would continue regardless of swine flu. These include fielding queries about safety issues, carrying out urgent investigations and maintaining essential communications.
It is hoped that as the regions are expected to be hit at different times commission staff would be able to move around the country. But Mr Needle said if the NHS was put under serious pressure “a whole suite of activities” could be postponed, including work related to the registration system.
This would also apply to hygiene inspections, radiological protection work, core standards inspections and data returns, if the DH declared the flu had escalated.
Currently the virus is having a minimal impact on most services although some primary care services are already feeling the strain, Mr Needle said.
However, the commission is seeing increasing numbers of inquiries from organisations, mainly care homes, saying they are struggling to keep up with regulatory requirements.
The DH would decide whether activities needed to be postponed, but the commission’s regional teams are providing some of the intelligence for justifying those decisions.
Foundation trust regulator Monitor has no plans to alter its regime in the event of a severe outbreak of swine flu.
A spokesman said: “We will continue to monitor foundation trusts’ performance against existing targets and standards. However, if performance is affected due to factors beyond a trust’s control, such as a large increase in emergency admissions caused by such an outbreak, this will of course be considered before a decision is taken on the need for regulatory action.
In addition, if the DH were to suspend or otherwise alter these targets we would be likely to take a similar approach.”