The new regulator for health and adult social care in England is to carry out four “special reviews” of services affecting disabled people during its first year.
On the day it started work, 1 April, the Care Quality Commission (CQC) said reviews in its first year would include the healthcare needs of people in residential homes, and the care system for people who have had a stroke.
There will also be reviews into the physical health needs of mental health service-users and people with learning difficulties in hospitals and residential homes, and into the health and social care services provided to families with disabled children and young people.
The commission said the reviews “demonstrate its commitment to look across health and adult social care services in a joined up way and to focus on vulnerable people who may not have been well served in the past”.
The CQC has taken over from the Commission for Social Care Inspection (CSCI), the Healthcare Commission and the Mental Health Act Commission. Its wide-ranging duties and powers mean social care and health are being jointly regulated for the first time.
Mark Bower, director of policy and public affairs for National Voices, the new umbrella organisation of social care and health charities, said: “Our members have been calling for the closer integration of health and social care for years.
“Now the government is forging ahead with its personalisation agenda in public services it’s time we had one regulator for both with the powers to ensure standards of care are being met. The CQC is certainly a step in the right direction.”
There have been concerns that the CQC could treat social care as a lower priority than healthcare.
But Julie Jones, chief executive of the Social Care Institute of Excellence, said: “SCIE wants to see everything done to ensure that social care doesn’t fall behind health. In fact, there has all too often been a concern about the status of social care being undervalued when compared to health and we see the arrival of the CQC as an opportunity to have a better coordinated approach.”
The CQC has a wider range of enforcement powers to help police underperforming adult social care services than the CSCI, but these will not come into force until 2010, under the Health and Social Care Act 2008.
The new powers are: issuing a warning notice, issuing a financial penalty notice instead of prosecution, and suspending the service’s registration.
The CQC said enforcement action would be “proportionate” to the risks involved, and that its action would be both “transparent” and “consistent”. It said it will focus on providers that cause, or risk causing, serious harm to service-users.
Cynthia Bower, CQC’s chief executive, said: “The ultimate purpose of enforcement is to bring about improvements for people who use services. We intend to take a firm but fair approach to enforcement and when we take enforcement action we will always follow up that action to make sure that improvements are made.”
The CQC said its new duties will not only allow it to check that patients’ rights are being upheld when subject to compulsory treatment under the Mental Health Act, but that the mental health services they receive meet the necessary standards, and allow them to take “decisive action” when those services are failing people.