The Care Quality Commission has said it currently lacks the skills to deliver a new duty of “market oversight” of the adult social care sector.
The regulator is likely to become responsible for monitoring a small number of “difficult to replace providers” from April 2015.
However, at a board meeting last month, CQC chair David Prior queried whether it had the “financial people who can provide the kind of assurance” required to do the work.
It is hoped scrutinising the finances of organisations with significant market share will create an “early warning system” of providers facing financial difficulty. This should help local authorities to protect service users from the potentially damaging impact of provider failure, as witnessed three years ago during the collapse of the care home giant Southern Cross.
Andrea Sutcliffe, the chief inspector of adult social care, agreed with Mr Prior and said the CQC was considering whether some of the monitoring “might be better provided to us from an outsourced organisation” with the right skills.
The news comes at a time when the responsibilities and workload of health regulators is rapidly expanding.
In April Monitor will begin licencing independent providers of health care. In this role it will scrutinise the financial performance of providers in a similar way to the CQC’s future market oversight role.
However, questions remain about the suitability and capability of the regulators to manage their increased workload.
The Commons health select committee in a recent report said: “The government should reconsider the proposals that the CQC should widen its remit [to market oversight].” It suggested that Monitor should instead take on the responsibility.
Speaking to HSJ, King’s Fund policy manager Beccy Ashton said the “scope of [the regulators’] work is getting larger and larger” and that some of the expectations being placed on them may not be “realistic”.
Ms Ashton said that regulation is “only the third line of defence against serious quality failure”, but that some people expected it to be “the front line”.
She added: “We would say the front line of defence is professionals – the people on the ground doing the job. The second line is then the board of the organisation. Only then is the regulator the third line of defence.”