The Care Quality Commission’s board has highlighted concern about the time taken by the watchdog to publish hospital inspection reports.
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Michael Mire, a CQC non-executive director, said at its board meeting on Wednesday that report publication timing was a “problem”.
CQC chair David Prior said timing was “critical” and acknowledged feedback from trusts that “it’s taken too long” for them to be published.
The comments were made on the day the CQC published a follow-up report for Hinchingbrooke Health Care Trust, which found the hospital had improved from an inspection in September and upgraded its rating from “inadequate” to “requires improvement”.
The re-inspection was carried out on 2 January – one week before the CQC published its original report rating Hinchingbrooke as inadequate based on the September findings. This led Circle, the company responsible for running Hinchingbrooke at the time, to claim the CQC’s original inspection had been “flawed”.
The CQC had hoped to publish the report of the September inspection before the follow-up inspection, but it had been delayed.
Mr Mire said at the board meeting: “It’s clear the [CQC’s] hospital directorate realises that timing is a problem… the time between the inspection and the unannounced follow-up inspection and the publication of the report.”
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He asked whether it would be possible to publish a shorter report summarising the CQC’s findings “much earlier”, followed by a longer, more detailed report at a later stage.
Sir Robert Francis, who is also a CQC non-executive director, said “two competing interests” were at play. “One is the public interest in knowing what is being found and what is being done about it, which tends to militate putting things into the public domain as soon as possible,” he said.
“The conflicting interest is ensuring that what is put in the public domain is accurate and fair, and getting the balance of that right is not always easy because the worse thing is to put… information into the public domain which is wrong.”
Sir Mike Richards, the CQC chief inspector of hospitals, said a number of steps had been taken to address the lag between inspections and the publication of reports.
This included giving immediate feedback to trusts at the end of inspections and in some cases writing letters shortly after to flag up serious concerns. He said the CQC could look at whether these letters should be put in the public domain.
Defending the time taken to publish reports, Sir Mike said: “A lot of these reports are the length of a PhD thesis.
“To write that, and to write that accurately and well in say 50 working days is actually quite a quick turnaround.”
Paul Bate, the CQC’s director of strategy and intelligence, warned against sacrificing the detail contained in inspection reports, which can run to several hundred pages in length.
“If we don’t have the detail… then we’re not doing our job well in encouraging improvement and explaining what’s already good… what could be better and what people could learn,” he said.