The Care Quality Commission has denied accusations that its inspection of Hinchingbrooke Health Care Trust was ‘flawed’ or that the high profile trust was treated differently to other providers it has inspected.   

The accusation, made by private provider Circle, which ran the trust at the time that it was placed in special measures, followed the regulator yesterday publishing a report upgrading the trust’s rating from “inadequate” to “requires improvement”.

A Circle spokesman said the company was “astonished” by the new report and that it “entirely vindicates our view that the inspection of Hinchingbrooke was flawed”.

Hinchingbrooke Hospital

The CQC had hoped to publish its original report on Hinchingbrooke Hospital earlier but it was delayed

The second report was based on a follow-up inspection, which found that “a number of improvements had been made” on two wards where the CQC had originally identified concerns when it first inspected the trust in September.

The re-inspection was carried out on 2 January – one week before the CQC published its original, highly critical inspection report based on the September findings which resulted in Hinchingbrooke being placed in special measures.

Following publication of the re-inspection report yesterday, HSJ asked the CQC if the decision to recommend special measures for Hinchingbrooke was consistent with its treatment of another trust that was recently re-inspected prior to being rated “inadequate”.

As with Hinchingbrooke, the CQC inspectors returned to East Sussex Healthcare Trust before the publication of its initial report to carry out a follow-up inspection (on 25-26 March) to see if the trust had made progress tackling the issues highlighted in an original inspection in September.

When the CQC released its report, it said the “early indications” from the re-inspection were that “improvements have been made”.

It continued: “As a result, any decision on special measures will be deferred until [the CQC chief inspector of hospitals] has considered in full the findings of the latest inspection.”

In Hinchingbrooke’s case, chief inspector of hospitals Sir Mike Richards recommended that the trust be immediately put in special measures.

In a statement, the regulator told HSJ the situation at the two trusts was different.

“We published our report on East Sussex some six months after the inspection,” it said. “We have deferred the decision on special measures until we have completed the follow-up inspection process because we had seen signs that over the six months that the leadership of the trust might be on a path to improvement.

“With Hinchingbrooke, the report was only three months after the inspection and we had less confidence that the leadership would be able to sustain the improvements noted on the January inspection, hence making the recommendation of special measures.”

The CQC said they had hoped to publish the report of the September inspection earlier than 9 January and before the follow-up inspection, but it had been delayed.

It added: “But although the September report was delayed, we could not delay the follow-up as it is important that we check to see if improvements are in hand.

“When we published the report on 9 January, we had carried out a follow-up inspection the previous week. We saw signs of improvement, but we needed to be sure these could be sustained over time.

“We would not have been in a position at the time we published the report of the September inspection to validate January’s findings, hence why we only made a reference to the follow-up inspection in our press release.”

The CQC added there had been no changes to its inspection process as a result of the events at Hinchingbrooke.