This House of Commons Library briefing explains the statutory role and powers of the Care Quality Commission (CQC)

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The CQC was established in April 2009 and replaced three former regulatory bodies. The CQC is responsible for the registration, inspection and monitoring of health and adult social care providers, including independent providers, under the Health and Social Care Act 2008.

All providers of health and adult social care who carry out “regulated activities” are required to register with the CQC and demonstrate they meet fundamental standards. The scope of regulated activities includes treatment of disease, disorder or injury, surgical procedures, maternity and midwifery services, personal care, nursing care and assessment or medical treatment for persons detained under the Mental Health Act 1983.

The CQC inspects and monitors the services that it registers. Following an inspection, services receive a rating on a four-point scale: outstanding; good; requires improvement; and inadequate. There is no set interval for inspections; inspections are carried out at variable frequency according to the CQC’s judgment of risk. Highly performing services – i.e. those with an outstanding rating – can expect inspections at a five-year interval, while services rated as inadequate are normally inspected within 12 months of their last report.

The CQC made major changes to its inspection and regulatory approach from 2013, primarily following concerns raised in the independent Francis review of failures in care at the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust. Key changes included the introduction of regulatory “fundamental standards”, including a new specific ‘duty of candour’; asking five questions of all services (are they safe? effective? caring? responsive to people’s needs? and well-led?); strengthening how the CQC acts on concerns and complaints raised by the public; and the introduction of chief inspectors for hospitals, adult social care and primary medical services and integrated care.

In April 2015, the CQC introduced a new enforcement policy. This enhanced their powers to act where they identify poor care, including acting on breaches of regulations and a new power to prosecute providers directly. The CQC also introduced a special measures framework, which applies to providers that have major failures in quality of care and/or serious financial problems.  

In January 2020, the CQC set out changes following an independent review into how it dealt with concerns about the regulation of Whorlton Hall (an independent hospital providing assessment and treatment for people with learning disabilities and complex needs). The review made recommendations to improve the CQC’s processes, including its internal whistleblowing process, all of which were accepted by the CQC. A second upcoming review will make recommendations for how CQC’s regulation of similar services can be improved, in the context of a raised level of risk of abuse and harm.

The CQC publishes an annual State of Care report to Parliament, which is its assessment of health and social care in England. The most recent report – an assessment of 2018/19 – found that although across England the state of care is generally good, there are widespread problems with access to care, with many people unable to access appointments. The report also raised concerns about the state of care for people with mental health problems, autism and learning disabilities. The report noted that in September 2019, 10% of inpatient services for people with learning disabilities and/or autism were rated as inadequate, as compared to 1% in 2018.[1]

The CQC has no role to investigate individual complaints made against a specific service (except certain complaints made in relation to the Mental Health Act 1983). However the CQC highlights that it is keen to hear from the public about their experience of care to help inform when and how it regulates and inspects particular services.

The CQC’s role and remit extends to England only. There are separate bodies that carry out the regulation and monitoring of providers in the devolved nations: In Wales, the Healthcare Inspectorate; in Scotland, the Care Inspectorate  and Healthcare Improvement Scotland; and in Northern Ireland, the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority.

Coronavirus response

The CQC has made changes to its operations during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, whilst continuing to fulfil its regulatory role.

On 16 March 2020, the CQC announced an immediate suspension of all routine inspections, for all adult social care and healthcare providers. [1] The CQC notes that it will still monitor providers using information such as people’s feedback, and they will continue to inspect where they see evidence of risk of harm, deliberate abuse, systematic neglect or a significant breakdown in leadership.[2]

On 1 May 2020, the CQC announced an Emergency Support Framework (ESF), which provides a structured framework for conversations that inspectors have with providers and covers the following four areas:

  • Safe care and treatment
  • Staffing arrangements
  • Protection from abuse
  • Assurance processes, monitoring, and risk management.

The CQC has also published Information for adult social care services during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak which provides guidance on areas including protective personal equipment (PPE), testing for social care staff and the discharge of hospital patients into care homes. Further guidance for providers is available on its website.

The CQC is providing data on death notifications in adult social care services to the Office for National Statistics to inform their weekly updates, using the data on deaths of people with suspected and confirmed COVID-19 that they collect from providers.[3]

[1]     Care Quality Commission, Routine inspections suspended in response to coronavirus outbreak, 16 March 2020

[2]     Care Quality Commission, Joint statement on our regulatory approach during the coronavirus pandemic, 30 April 2020

[3]     CQC, Joint statement from DHSC and CQC on yesterday’s ONS figures, 22 March 2020

[1]     Care Quality Commission, Routine inspections suspended in response to coronavirus outbreak, 16 March 2020

[2]     CQC, Joint statement from DHSC and CQC on yesterday’s ONS figures, 22 March 2020

[1]     Care Quality Commission, Growing pressures on access and staffing risk creating ‘perfect storm’ for people using mental health and learning disability services, 15 October 2019

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