Published: 11/4/2002, Volume II2, No. 5800 Page 6

The inspection and regulation regime for health and social care faces fresh upheaval as it emerged that the National Care Standards Commission, which began work on 1 April, could be split in two.

NCSC, set up under the Care Standards Act 2000 to register and inspect private hospitals and care homes, is already set to relinquish hospital inspection to the Commission for Health Improvement following an announcement by junior health minister Lord Hunt last month.

And the government has for several months signalled the future 'organisational integration' between NCSC, CHI, the Audit Commission and the Social Services Inspectorate.

But HSJ understands that the government is considering a model with two inspection organisations - one for health and one for social care, each covering both public and private sector provision. This would effectively split NCSC, with hospital work going to CHI and its care homes remit being integrated with SSI. Under this model, the Audit Commission would also lose its value for money role in health.

HSJ sources suggest that the shift may be signalled in the wake of the Budget. One source told HSJ that the comparatively large volume of care home work could lead to 'an inspectorate of social care who also do health' if one giant body was created. 'I think that may be what triggered a bit of a rethink.'

Lord Hunt's announcement has already provoked unrest in the private sector, with one source pointing out that NCSC had only just begun work. 'What sort of impression is that going to make, to put new arrangements in place to regulate the independent sector, and then six months later It is all changed?'

But BUPA medical director Andrew Vallance-Owen was happier with the move. 'We have always supported NCSC and think It is very important There is a level playing field, so we think it makes sense to bring the bodies closer together.'

An NCSC spokesperson said it was not making plans for the rapidly changing situation. 'We are not in a position yet to unload anything. We haven't had any formal discussions - We are getting on with the job We have been tasked with.'

But the new body - with about 900 of an eventual 2,400 staff in place at its 71 area and eight regional offices - has already had to extend the deadline for registration from 31 March to 19 April.

It has a budget of around£130m, of which£88.1m is Department of Health revenue funding. The remainder comes from care homes' and private hospitals' registration fees. CHI is set to receive£34m from the DoH for 2002-03.