The Care Quality Commission has been forced to sideline non-urgent activities after the government ordered it to carry out snap inspections of 320 abortion clinics.
The Department of Health told the CQC to carry out the inspections over concerns that doctors in some clinics were pre-signing forms approving abortions, which is against the law.
“The urgent nature of this request from the Secretary of State – and the need for as many inspections as possible to be conducted simultaneously to ensure that providers did not have prior knowledge – has had some limited resource implications for CQC’s other inspection work,” said a CQC spokesperson. “However, we have prioritised to ensure that any urgent action to protect people has been unaffected by this special inspection programme.”
Martin Green, chief executive of the English Community Care Association, said actions of this sort betrayed government doubts about the regulatory system, under which the CQC is supposed to use intelligence to identify risk.
“If you were confident in what you were doing there wouldn’t be scandals to find,” he said. “So this action says to me that there is a failure in the risk-based approach to compliance and that there is no confidence in government in the regulatory system.”
The news follows significant criticisms in a string of reports over the CQC’s ability to manage its remit of regulating all health and adult social care services.
In December 2011 the National Audit Office identified shortcomings in the CQC’s performance management arrangements and warned government plans to widen its remit risked diverting it from its core tasks of regulating health and social care. Then last month, the Department of Health published a performance and capability review of the CQC that warned that the regulator’s problems had damaged public confidence in its work. On the same day that report was published, the CQC’s chief executive, Cynthia Bower, resigned.
Wider remit ‘risks diverting CQC from regulating care’