• CQC prosecuted 211 providers in 2018-19
  • Greatest rise came from ‘unspecified’ category
  • Also took 906 civil enforcement actions

The Care Quality Commission has increased the number of criminal prosecutions of health and social care providers by more than 32 per cent in a year.

According to the regulator’s annual report, the CQC used its criminal powers to prosecute 211 providers in 2018-19, compared with 159 prosecutions in the previous year.

For hospital providers, the number of prosecutions has risen from eight to 12, while in primary care the numbers are up from one to three. Adult social care providers were prosecuted 159 times, up from 144 the year before. The greatest rise came in the “unspecified” category, which relates to providers which are yet to be registered with the CQC, where prosecutions went from six to 37.

The watchdog has been clear it intends to ramp up its enforcement action against providers which breach regulations as part of efforts to reassure the public the CQC “is on the side of the people who use services”.

While the CQC issued fewer warning notices (1,089 compared with 1,343 in 2017-18), it took 906 civil enforcement actions against providers compared with 781 in the previous year.

During the year, the regulator has increased training for inspectors to “build expertise in regulation and enforcement” and set up dedicated teams to manage enforcement action which reduced costs of enforcement action from 5 per cent to 3 per cent of the CQC’s cost base.

The annual report said: “While the majority (74 per cent) of people in our 2018 public awareness survey told us that they trust CQC is on the side of people who use services, we have more to do to reassure the public about the work that we do, with 60 per cent agreeing in the survey that CQC can effectively monitor, inspect and regulate the services that they use.

“To take decisive action to protect people, we have continued to strengthen our approach to enforcement and increased the use of our civil and criminal powers.

“The majority were civil actions or warning notices. We took more criminal actions than in 2017-18, a continuing trend over the last two years. Our case management tracking system is helping to strengthen our criminal action work.”

Corinne Slingo from law firm DAC Beachcroft said: “This ramping-up of enforcement activity is in line with the CQC’s ongoing commitment to use its powers to the full, particularly where breaches of regulations have caused or risk causing avoidable harm. As the report says, this is part of a continuing trend over the last two years, with the CQC crediting its case management tracking system with helping strengthen its criminal enforcement activity.”

She added that for those providers “who are rated ‘requires improvement’ or ‘inadequate’, it appears that sanctions are becoming more frequent. The CQC ‘bite’ is thus being delivered as promised.”

Ian Trenholm, chief executive at the CQC, said: “In the context of the wider health and social care sector, the small number of criminal enforcement actions clearly shows that most people are getting good, safe care – a testament to the hard work of everyone who works within the NHS and social care.

“We will continue to focus on encouraging improvement and sharing best practice – but we also have a legal duty, and a duty to families and loved ones, to use our civil powers or the powers we inherited from the Health and Safety Executive in 2015, to ensure that people are protected from harm. We will continue to use learning from enforcement action to feed back to individual organisations and the wider system so that care is improved and people are protected.”

Mr Trenholm has previously warned the CQC will take a tougher stance on prosecutions, telling HSJ last year the regulator was considering 31 NHS prosecutions.

In June this year, Sussex Partnership Foundation Trust was fined £200,000 after a 19-year-old prisoner used a bed sheet attached to a tap to take his own life. Southern Health FT was also fined £125,000 and told to pay £36,000 in costs after a patient under its care fell from a roof.