• Commons public accounts committee expresses “new concerns” over CQC’s performance
  • Committee says CQC’s own performance metrics are “inadequate”
  • Concerns raised over CQC taking on new duty to assess efficiency “while it is struggling to fulfil its existing responsibilities”

The Care Quality Commission is “not yet an effective regulator of health and social care”, a highly critical report by a parliamentary committee has concluded.

The report by the Commons public accounts committee, published today, expresses “new concerns” about the regulator’s performance, and accuses it of “weaknesses in the consistency, accuracy and timeliness” of its inspection reports.

Houses of Parliament

Houses of Parliament

MPs said the CQC’s metrics to measure its performance were ‘inadequate’

The committee highlights the CQC’s persistent recruitment troubles, and raises “serious concerns” about the government’s plans to hand it responsibility for inspecting providers’ efficiency.

While the MPs say the CQC has made “substantial progress” since it last reported on the regulator in 2012, it makes numerous criticisms of the watchdog.

The report notes the impact staff shortages have had on the CQC’s ability to complete its inspection programme.

Sluggish recruitment has meant the CQC is set to miss key inspection deadlines that it had already pushed back.

In mid-April, the regulator had a vacancy rate of 34 per cent for inspectors, 36 per cent for senior analysts and 35 per cent for managers. The shortfall has been worsened by staff turnover of nearly 8 per cent, against a target of 5 per cent.

The committee identifies “weaknesses in the consistency, accuracy and timeliness” of the CQC’s draft reports, and raises concerns about its ability “to respond quickly and effectively to information received from service users and staff”, including whistleblowers.

Committee chair Meg Hillier said there was “too often a long gap between inspections and reports being published – and sometimes an alarming lack of attention to detail when reports are being prepared”.

Hospital inspection reports are taking on average 83 days to complete – considerably behind the CQC’s 50 day target.

According to the committee, the CQC’s own metrics to measure its performance are “inadequate”.

“There is no way for Parliament or the public to know whether the commission is performing its statutory duties to protect the health, safety and welfare of people who use health and social care services,” the report says.

The committee also raises concerns about Jeremy Hunt’s plan for the CQC to begin assessing trusts’ “use of resources” from April.

“We are concerned that there is not adequate preparation for this important additional area of work, which has been introduced before the [CQC] has the capacity to implement it and while it is struggling to fulfil its existing responsibilities,” the report says.

At the same time as the CQC is behind on its inspection pipeline and about to shoulder new duties, the organisation could face a cut of up to 40 per cent in its government grant.

According to the report, the Department of Health informed the committee that the CQC’s “costs could be passed on to providers in the form of fees”.

However, the MPs say that with providers being asked to pay “substantially more” in CQC fees it was “more important than ever” the CQC could demonstrate the quality of its work.

The committee recommends the CQC should set out how it will improve the quality and timeliness of its draft reports, and publish new “quantified” performance targets for 2016-17.

It also calls on the DH to clarify the roles of the CQC, Monitor and the NHS Trust Development Authority for assessing use of resources to stop “duplication of effort and unnecessary burdens”.

David Behan, the CQC’s chief executive, said: “We have always maintained that there is more we have to do, in particular with regards to improving the timeliness of our reports and inspecting all health and adult social care services. These are not new issues and we have been working hard to improve our performance.

“What is essential is that we do not take any shortcuts, which could compromise the quality of the important work that we do.”