Comment: Cornwall abuse, CSCI inspections in doubt

How was the abuse and neglect in Cornish care institutions missed by earlier inspections, asks Judy Downey

The recent revelations in Cornwall sit uneasily with the Commission for Social Care Inspection’s new approach to inspection. Since 1 April, the minimum frequency of inspections for care homes has been once every three years rather than twice a year as before.

Questions need to be asked about CSCI’s role in Cornwall, where an inquiry it conducted jointly with the Healthcare Commission uncovered years of abuse in learning difficulties institutions. CSCI is responsible for regulating many registered services, and assesses and reports on the annual performance of all social services authorities.

CSCI gave a glowing assessment of Cornwall’s two-star performance in 2005 as “serving adults well, with an excellent capacity to improve”. Its 2004-5 report shows Cornwall meeting 80-89 per cent of standards for adults with learning difficulties. But the new joint report states that people were not being assessed properly and that “working relationships between the trust and Cornwall Council have been poor for a considerable time”.

CSCI should have noticed earlier that many of the services for which the health trust was responsible were unlawfully run as unregistered care homes. CSCI’s ignorance of what was happening in Cornwall is worrying and shows a failure of local intelligence and liaison.

Of course, there will always be failures in practice and in regulation and we must continue to question what CSCI does and how it does it, especially when the proposed merger with the Healthcare Commission goes ahead in two years’ time. We need the protectors of vulnerable people to stand up for their task and be less apologetic about it.

Since Labour has been in power at least three different inspection regimes have tried to protect the vulnerable. Now we are promised a lighter touch in inspection. After what has happened in Cornwall, this is clearly unwarranted.

Judy Downey is chair of the Relatives and Residents Association

Additional reading:
Helping people with learning difficulties live independently

Further information
Commission for Social Care Inspection
Healthcare Commission

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