A top Department of Health civil servant has launched a scathing attack on the Care Quality Commission for its “deliberately distorting” presentation of a survey of acute mental health inpatients last week.
Louis Appleby, the national director for mental health, accused the CQC of looking to gain press headlines by portraying negatively the results from the survey of 7,500 recently discharged patients.
However, the CQC has stoutly defended itself.
Appleby said it was a major omission for the CQC not to mention in its press release that 73% of patients had had at least a good experience of care overall. The headline was instead about patients feeling “let down”.
Appleby added: “It could only be a deliberate distortion.”
He said that while campaign groups were expected to promote a particular line, the job of the CQC “is to be factual and balanced and inform the public and patients”.
The CQC press release highlighted the fact that 34% of respondents did not feel as involved in their treatment as they wanted to be.
Appleby said the “assumption in the way it was presented was that it was to do with poor care”. But he pointed out that 44% of respondents had been detained under the Mental Health Act, adding: “Of course they would have liked to have more say in their care.”
The CQC release mentioned the proportion of detained patients who had responded to the survey in the notes to the editor at the bottom.
Regulator under fire
Appleby also criticised the regulator for highlighting the fact that 39% of patients “sometimes” felt safe on the wards and 16% did not feel safe at all, without mentioning clinical reasons.
“It might just have been they were unwell,” he said.
He also said the response rate – constituting 28% of patients discharged in the six months to 31 December 2008 – meant the results were not reliable.
A CQC spokesperson said: “This was the largest and most comprehensive survey of mental health patients ever carried out. It contained some really important messages to which we should all listen very carefully, and we have put all the results in the public domain for discussion.”
While acknowledging that 73% of respondents had said their care was at least good, he added: “One in four said it was fair or poor. In many specific aspects there was a considerable proportion of people who reported poor experiences.
“We are aware of Professor Appleby’s concerns and responded to him in detail last week.”