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By Debbie le Quesne

CQC penalty notices and why we should have a measured response

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The Care Quality Commission has this year been busy issuing penalty notices over breaches in conditions of registration.

Most services have to have a registered manager as ‘part of the deal’ in being operationally compliant.

And sometimes there is good, compelling evidence why sometimes care businesses are without a registered boss.

Often, as staff move onwards and upwards, the vacancies are hard to plug. Getting the right person on deck is paramount to both the smooth running and general ambience of the service – but it all takes time

There’s some great advice in the latest edition of the Brunswicks’ Care Review, a great source of legal updates and mostly presented in a way all of us can understand.

It appears that editor Keith Lewin has had a bulging postbag relating to the penalties issue and he offers some wise words in response.

Firstly, “a penalty notice can only be applied with a care provider’s agreement.”

He advises that those with recruiting issues should be “slow to accept” them. In such circumstances and providing there is good documented evidence, a penalty notice is not an appropriate response.

He also goes on to explain the industry-wide and direct consequences of acceptance.

I quote: “There are consequences for individual care providers of meek acceptance; first, there is the beginning of a record of non-compliance which CQC will undoubtedly refer to in more formal penalty situations, for example, when before a court or tribunal.

“That said, there is a more wide-spread consequence for all care providers when many accept the penalty. It is this – that the regulator becomes convinced that in order to drive change in the sector, first change the rules, then tell people about those changes, provide a period of grace for people to become compliant, at the end of which give inspectors the stick of issuing penalty notices to send a message to all care providers by making an example of the few.”

What concerns me deeply is that the ‘stick’ approach, he says, is “expected to be deployed more in future.”

His reasoning is to be found in the CQCs board of management papers for its meeting last week.

Let me quote some more: “Andrea Sutcliffe, Chief Inspector of Adult Social Care and Corporate Lead for Registration, reported that there was a 57% increase in the number of new registered managers in 2,439 care services which CQC targeted in a six-month period which ended in April.

“I therefore suspect that CQC management will use that statistic to drive through change in the sector at a time when care fee payments from the majority of commissioners of care, local authorities, are still exercising considerable downward pressure on care fees.

“Therefore, for the future, I expect that in matters of provider delinquency CQC will take a much less tolerant approach and that similarly, it can be expected to issue penalty notices.”

Make sure your paperwork is in order! Enjoy the weekend.

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