The Care Quality Commission will fail to hit a high profile target to inspect all acute trusts before the end of this year, the watchdog’s chief executive has said.

In an exclusive interview with HSJ, David Behan said the regulator was making the admission to be “open and transparent”.

Sluggish recruitment and a heavier than anticipated workload were given as two of the reasons behind the failure to hit the target.

David Behan

The CQC is ‘not prepared to compromise on the quality’ of inspections, David Behan said

When the CQC launched its new inspection regime in September 2013, involving beefed up, clinically led teams, it said all acute trusts would be inspected under the new approach by December 2015.

However, in a business plan for 2015-16 discussed at the CQC’s board meeting this morning, and due to be published shortly, the regulator moved the target back to 31 March next year. The inspection of all acute specialist trusts, which was included in the CQC’s December target, will be completed even later, by 30 June 2016.This is also the deadline for all NHS mental health, community and ambulance providers to be inspected by.

Targets to inspect all adult social care providers and GP practices by March 2016 and April 2016 respectively have both been pushed back to 30 September 2016.

Mr Behan said the targets would not be met because the new intensive inspections had taken longer than originally expected and the CQC was not “prepared to compromise on the quality” of inspections.

The CQC had also carried out more “reactive inspections” than anticipated in relation to “concerns, whistleblowing referrals and complaints” and more “follow on inspections” to check that providers rated as “inadequate” or “requires improvement” had made progress. 

But while the workload had increased, Mr Behan said the CQC had “not recruited the number of inspectors at the rate we anticipated”.

He claimed it was “not a big deal” that the main acute target had moved from December to March, but said it was important the regulator was open about the change.

“The worst thing we could do… is not be open and transparent about why we’re changing these dates.”

When asked why the CQC should be allowed to move its targets when the trusts it regulates were unable to change their waiting time standards, Mr Behan said it was a “fair challenge” to ask “are we judging others in a different way to how we’re holding ourselves to account”.

“I don’t think we’re trying to create a different standard than applies to the people we regulate,” he said. “We would equally want providers to be open and transparent about what they’re able to do.

“I would put to people that what we’re attempting to do is model appropriately open and transparent behaviour.”

While the CQC has long had a workforce shortage, the pace of hiring has increased since a decision to bring its recruitment in house and Mr Behan said it would be “there or thereabouts” on a target to recruit 300 inspectors by the end of next month.

He was “optimistic” that if the current level was maintained, a further 300 would be hired by the end of December to give the CQC all the inspectors it needed.

Mr Behan said this improving picture meant the strain on CQC staff was beginning to ease.

“I’m not going to pretend that I haven’t got people working very, very hard and working under a lot of pressure,” he said.

“It is ‘getting better’ rather than it has ‘got better’ and it will continue to get better through the year.”

CQC will miss own inspection deadlines, regulator admits