• CQC said that if the IT project fails ”we won’t be able to deliver our programme on a reduced budget”
  • “Relatively high” risk levels surround the project due to “fundamental gaps” in current skills and technology and potential to delay roll out of inspection dashboards
  • Work to first begin on an developing information collection platform and improving registration process

The Care Quality Commission is to invest up to £9m upgrading its information technology systems as part of a major two year overhaul to help boost its efficiency.

Speaking at a meeting of the CQC board last week, chair Peter Wyman, said that if the project was not successful, the CQC “won’t be able to deliver our programme on a reduced budget”. He added: “This is hugely important”.

The technology project will allow the regulator to improve the efficiency of its inspection process, including the speed at which it publishes reports, and underpins its new regulatory approach which will target inspections based on where analysis of data suggests a higher patient safety risk.

A report to the trust board published this month warned that the risks associated with the project are “relatively high” due to “fundamental gaps” in skills and technology capability and the need for CQC staff to change the way they work with the new systems.

The regulator was due to approve spending on this project last year but the CQC’s chief executive Sir David Behan said that the CQC “did not have clarity” of what it wanted to achieve in order to sign off on the spending. It ended the year with a £6.7m underspend on its capital budget. Costs for the IT upgrade have been estimated at between £5m to £9m.

Peter Sinden has now been appointed as chief digital officer for the CQC and NHS Improvement to help drive a digital strategy across both organisations. Mr Sinden admitted in last week’s board meeting that the regulator “need[s] to get the data process and the handling right under the hood” to ensure that it can enable the new “information-led approach to regulation which would include new ways of looking at large volumes of information”.

The delay in developing a digital strategy is likely to affect the regulator’s flagship CQC Insight programme, which is designed to collect data on CQC registered providers to help inspectors better identify provider risks.

The new methodology is due to be rolled out in a phased approach next month but a report to the board warned: ”A risk for insight remains resource constraints in the intelligence team due to competing demands and delays to the development of systems while we develop our digital strategy.”

It added that any delays could ”impact on [the CQC’s] ability to start updating the Insight Dashboards when new data becomes available”.

Mr Wyman also said at the board meeting that the IT overhaul would be of “huge benefit for our providers including being able to get our reports out more quickly”. However improving the inspection report process will not be one of the first areas that the CQC’s new digital operations directorate will focus on.

The three major initiatives the digital team will work on first will be improving the registration process, developing an information collection platform, and working with CQC’s Intelligence team to develop and invest in “cost effective, intelligence led regulation”.

The decision to focus on these areas was reached through what the CQC described as a “forced prioritisation process” in which the executive team as well as other CQC staff were asked to rate which of it’s 2017-18 business priorities were most important to them.

Improving the reporting process came fourth in this process, however the digital strategy board paper said the prioritisation process “will continue, with an expectation that improved report writing will be highlighted as an important subsequent priority”.

As of April 2017 the CQC had given its highest risk rating of 16 to its IT systems for having the potential to prevent the regulator from delivering its new regulation strategy. However, the risk rating has since been revised to down to nine to take into account risk mitigation actions such as the recruitment of Mr Sinden.

A spokeswoman for the CQC said: ”This risk rating relates not to the current functionality of our IT systems and processes, but to the possibility that they might not support the delivery of an ambitious programme of change at the pace we would wish.”