Earlier this month, the CQC contacted providers across the health and social care sector, setting out how they would respond to the outbreak of coronavirus in the UK.
CQC confirmed that routine inspections would continue. However, the situation has been evolving daily and, following calls from the BMA and others, CQC has now stopped routine inspections.
The move was announced on Monday 16 March, with the suspension of inspections taking immediate effect.
The previous Friday, the BMA had written to CQC voicing “severe concerns” around the decision to continue routine inspections during the outbreak of COVID-19 (coronavirus). The BMA urged CQC to focus on supporting services instead of adding to the existing pressures, expressing concerns of many in the sector that the CQC inspection process diverts much needed time and resources away from patients and service users.
In its statement on Monday, CQC stated that its primary objective is to support providers to keep people safe “during a period of unprecedented pressure on the health and care system”. However, it is understood that, whilst routine inspections have ceased, CQC may still use its impaction powers in a small number of cases where there is evidence of harm, such as allegations of abuse. In these circumstances, CQC anticipates having a conversation with the provider before undertaking a visit.
CQC has also stated that it wants to act as a support for Registered Managers during this time and that the inspection team are able to provide advice and guidance to providers. CQC is implementing the following:
- In the absence of a single national oversight body like NHS England for adult social care, CQC will continue to request Provider Information Returns (PIRs).
- However, CQC will not penalise providers for the late return of PIRs
- In order to reduce the reporting burden, CQC will share the information it collects from providers with local authorities and clinical commissioning groups
- CQC will use the information gathered from PIRs to inform and influence government and commissioners to provide support and address issues such as workforce challenges
It also appears that CQC is starting to roll up its own sleeves! Clinically qualified CQC special advisors have already returned to the frontline to help with the wider national response; CQC has offered DHSC, Public Health England and NHS England the use of its staff where they have relevant skills and it stated that a number have been seconded already. CQC also expects to be using its customer contact centre to start taking non-clinical COVID-19 calls from next week in support of the 111 service. In addition, CQC is asking its teams to stand ready to help any other part of the national effort whether that be in the public or private sector.
Guidance from CQC:
CQC has confirmed that there are no changes to the requirements to submit notifications or the system used for notifications. This means that you should continue to notify CQC of any deaths and any events which stop you carrying on your service “safely and properly”. This means notifying CQC if your service operation is being negatively affected by COVID-19. This does not mean that CQC needs to be notified of every COVID-19 issue, but it would expect to be notified of an outbreak.
Interestingly, CQC has also stated: “We encourage everyone to act in the best interests of the health of the people they serve, with the top priority the protection of life. We encourage you to use your discretion and act in the best way you see fit.” Unfortunately, this is a rather vague statement and, whilst helpful to providers in the current circumstances, it does not provide much certainty as to the approach CQC will take. However, with CQC inspectors and advisors ‘mucking in’ with the effort, we hope this will afford them some appreciation of the practical challenges providers will encounter.
It is clear that all health and social care services are going to experience serious pressures in the coming weeks and will need the support of CQC, local authorities and CCGs to do what is needed to protect the most vulnerable on our society.
Our experienced healthcare solicitors have already been advising providers, drafting risk management protocols and guidance to staff. We will continue to monitor the situation and the proposed new emergency legislation. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact us on 01202 786187 or email online.enquires@LA-Law.com