The Care Quality Commission is still 559 inspectors short of the total number it thinks it needs by the end of next year.
The watchdog needs to grow its inspection workforce by 66 per cent in one year to try to hit its target, underlining the scale of the recruitment challenge facing it.
According to documents presented at its board meeting yesterday, the regulator has 852 full time equivalent inspectors in post but has total target of 1,411 by December 2015.
Speaking at the Commons health committee on Tuesday, CQC chief executive David Behan said the target establishment of 1,411 was needed to “discharge the commitments that we’ve made in our business plan”.
Mr Behan said the CQC was planning to recruit in “two tranches” of 300 inspectors by April, and a further 300 between April and December next year.
“The key challenge, in all honesty, is whether we’ll be able to recruit inspectors to those numbers… but that’s what we’re embarking on,” he said.
Currently the biggest shortfalls are among the acute hospital workforce, where there are 85 inspectors against an eventual planned total of 302, and mental health where there are only 35 against a target of 163.
Mr Behan said the CQC had moved away from a “mass recruitment campaign” - which had generated “huge interest” but a low conversion rate - to a more localised campaign which made better use of secondments.
The regulator has had problems with recruitment of inspectors in the past. An internal investigation by the CQC earlier this year revealed that a “flawed” hiring process in 2012 left it with more than 100 inspectors who had not met its recruitment standards at that time.
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At the health committee hearing, Mr Behan and CQC chair David Prior were also grilled on the regulator’s half a million pound out of court settlement to former deputy chief executive Jill Finney.
Mr Behan revealed that in addition to the £510,000 the CQC paid towards Ms Finney’s legal costs and the £60,000 it paid in damages, the regulator’s legal costs came to about £200,000.
Committee chair Sarah Wollaston said the affair had been a “huge cost” to taxpayers and the CQC’s fee payers.
Asked what lessons had been learned from the case, Mr Prior said: “We would be better with hindsight if we were doing it again to get a lawyer to do that kind of investigation.”
He said it would have been preferable if a judge had led a public investigation where individuals called to it had their own legal representation.
Mr Prior claimed the CQC was in an “invidious situation” where if “we interfered with the way the [investigation] was being done, we would have been accused of interfering with the results of the investigation”.
“But by not interfering we had no control over how it was done and how the people were treated in the process,” he added.