• Groups say CQC breaking law over suspension of routine inspections
  • Calls for inspections of “inadequate or “requires improvement” services to be prioritised
  • CQC says it is continuing to inspect in some cases

The Care Quality Commission is breaking human rights and equalities laws by deciding not to carry out routine inspections of care homes and hospitals, older people’s and disabled groups have argued.

A total of 11 organisations which support older people, people with learning disabilities, mental health support needs or autism have jointly written to the CQC to raise concerns about its interim regulation measures during the covid-19 pandemic.

The groups, including Rightful Lives and Learning Disability England, have said facilities for people with these support needs are “high risk environments” and risks of exploitation, violence, abuse – such as over-medication — and neglect is “increased in institutional settings”.

They have said the CQC is in breach of its statutory duties under the Human Rights Act 1998, and the Health and Social Care Act 2008 – which mandates it to carry out inspections — and the Equality Act 2010.

Meanwhile, health and social care law firm Ridouts has expressed concerns that when routine inspections re-start the “backlog… could lead to reports being rushed, less detailed and more prone to error”.

CQC chief executive Ian Trenholm has said the regulator’s role in keeping people safe “has not changed” during the pandemic and it is still using its powers to inspect and respond to whistleblowing concerns.

The CQC suspended its routine inspections in March, but from this week has been calling healthcare providers to decide whether they need to be inspected.

The regulator said it may still inspect services where there are “serious concerns about actual or possible avoidable significant harm, abuse, or breaches of human rights” raised either through the phone calls or from “external sources”.

But the 11 support groups have said the suspension of inspections was putting “extremely vulnerable” disabled people at “heightened risk”.

A letter, sent to Mr Trenholm from legal firm Leigh Day on 4 May, said: “Our clients consider that this new policy leaves patients and residents exposed to a high risk of harm. They believe that the policy undercuts one of the fundamental principles of the CQC’s inspectorate function, namely to prevent torture, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment.”

The letter also said the CQC’s reliance on information from service users would be “wholly inadequate” with services for learning or cognitive disabilities, mental health issues or autism “because many of these people are less able to communicate their needs and understand their rights and many of them have become institutionalised and vulnerable to exploitation, violence and abuse”.

The groups have asked the CQC to remedy these concerns “without the need to begin formal legal proceedings.” They have asked the regulator to prioritise the inspection of care homes and hospitals rated “inadequate” or “requires improvement” and provide protective equipment and social distancing training to inspectors.

Mr Trenholm said: “The nation is facing a major health crisis that has required all health and care bodies, including CQC, to work in very different ways, and we continue to do so.

“We expect services to continue to do everything in their power to keep people safe and we will continue to inspect where we see evidence of risk of harm, deliberate abuse, systematic neglect or a significant breakdown in leadership. We will use our powers, or work with the relevant system partners, to take action against those responsible where we find unsafe or poor care.”

Mr Trenholm added that CQC inspectors and mental health act reviewers “will continue to ensure that people are safe, and their human rights are maintained, while also working to support providers to respond to Care Act easements and emerging issues”.