The majority of clinical commissioning groups are failing to relay concerns about their providers to the Care Quality Commission before inspections are carried out, denying the watchdog intelligence about the quality of hospital services.

According to figures released to HSJ by the CQC, only 46 per cent of CCGs responded to the watchdog’s requests for intelligence before inspectors were dispatched to assess 39 acute trusts in January and May.

Pre-inspection information requests

In comparison, response rates from the Royal College of Nursing and the General Medical Council to CQC requests were 97 and 100 per cent respectively.

Requests for pre-inspection intelligence are issued to all CCGs in the CQC’s quarterly email. While some groups may provide the information through other routes such as telephone calls, the CQC considers the response rates as a good indication of the sector’s level of engagement.

Concerns about CCGs’ relatively low response rates were flagged up by the chief inspector of hospitals Sir Mike Richards at the NHS Confederation conference earlier this month.

“Somewhat surprisingly, although we write to every host CCG when we’re going to do a provider inspection, we don’t always hear back from them,” he said.

“Can I encourage CCGs to give us their views before we come on inspection because you know what you’re worried about; make sure we know that, or what you think is very good as well.”

Steve Kell, co-chair of NHS Clinical Commissioners, said its members had described a “variability in the involvement of CCGs in the new inspections by the inspection teams on the ground”.

He added: “Some teams talk to CCGs well in advance and provide clear instructions on what they’re looking for, and others see CCGs as ‘geographical entities’ to just signpost the inspection teams to information.

“Obviously, this means the levels of true engagement in the inspection process will also be varied. We will continue to work with the CQC to embed the commissioning voice in the quality agenda.”

Intelligence gathered during pre-inspection help shape the CQC’s investigations rather than to make judgements.