The number of inspections by the social care regulator that are cancelled or rescheduled every month has risen by more than 360 per cent in just one year, the watchdog’s own figures have revealed.
The figures – revealed by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) following a freedom of information request by Disability News Service (DNS) – show that 25 inspections of adult social care services were cancelled in April 2015, but that this shot up to 103 in April 2016.
The figures also show the number of inspections that had to be rescheduled rose from 25 in April 2015 to 130 in April 2016.
The freedom of information request was originally submitted by DNS in an attempt to discover the impact of changes to CQC’s troubled Experts by Experience (EbE) programme, in which people with experience of using services accompany CQC inspectors on their inspection visits of health and care services.
The EbE programme was hit by criticism after three of four new contracts to run the programme were awarded to Remploy, the formerly government-owned disability employment business which is now mostly owned by the scandal-hit US company Maximus.
In February, DNS reported that the decision to hand the three contracts to Remploy/Maximus had led to confusion, chaos and a stream of resignations, with some Experts even being told to print their own ID badges.
Experts had previously been paid more than £17 an hour to take part in CQC inspections, but many were furious when they discovered Remploy planned to cut their pay to just £8.25 per hour (or £9.40 in London), although CQC later agreed to subsidise these wages for existing Experts for the first six months of the Remploy contracts.
The new figures released to DNS show that inspections that were cancelled or rescheduled as a result of “insufficient non-CQC resources” (which includes those where there problems with securing Experts to take part in inspections) rose from six in July 2015 (when CQC began to collect the figures) to 26 in April 2016, an increase of more than 330 per cent.
One Expert said the figures were “embarrassing”, but he said they did not surprise him because he was currently having more inspections cancelled by Remploy than those that went ahead.
He said: “The inspectors [I speak to] are all saying the same thing: there are not any Experts available. That is what they are being told by Remploy.
“Quite a lot of this I suspect is because of Remploy’s chaotic handling of the contract.”
He said he had real concerns about the impact of so many cancelled inspections on CQC’s ability to root out abuse and other poor practice in care homes, community-based social care services and home care agencies.
He said he believed that the inspection programme was “woefully and dangerously underfunded”, while inspectors were “dropping like flies because they are way too over-worked”.
A CQC spokesman refused to say whether the increase in cancellations and rescheduled inspections due to “insufficient non-CQC resources” was connected with the decision to hand the contracts to Remploy/Maximus and the subsequent reported chaos within the EbE programme.
And he refused to say whether the overall cancellation and rescheduling figures were due to funding problems within the regulator.
But he said it was “clear that the majority of our inspections are able to go ahead, as planned”.
He said: “When we do have to make arrangements to reschedule planned inspections of adult social care services, there are many possible reasons behind this.
“For example, in adult social care these include urgent inspections or enforcement activity being required elsewhere; changes to the provider’s service, such as closure or relocation; and changes needed due to sickness, annual leave and other personal circumstances.
“When making these decisions, we always prioritise our activities according to where we have the greatest concerns as this is in the best interests of people who are receiving care.”
But he refused to explain why the number of cancellations and rescheduled inspections had risen by more than 360 per cent in just one year.
He added: “The Care Quality Commission continues to have formal meetings with suppliers of the new Experts by Experience services which began in February 2016 on a monthly basis and we will continue to closely monitor their progress in helping us deliver our programme, which will significantly expand the number of Experts by Experience that we involve on inspections.
“Our commitment to inspect every adult social care service that was registered on or before 1 October 2014 at least once using our current regulatory approach by the end of March 2017 remains and we are on track to do so.”