A discredited US company that earns hundreds of millions of pounds a year through benefit assessment and employment support contracts has lost the right to run large parts of a care inspection scheme, following repeated concerns about its performance.
Maximus, which has been running three of the four regional Experts by Experience (ExE) schemes since 2016, has lost out in a lengthy bidding process to a consortium headed by a UK charity.
The ExE scheme uses disabled people, family carers, and other people with experience of using services to provide expert input into Care Quality Commission (CQC) health and social care inspections across England.
Three of the ExE regional schemes are currently managed by Remploy, the disability employment business which was previously owned by the government but is now mostly owned by Maximus.
But Remploy/Maximus is now about to lose all its ExE contracts, with a new single national contract worth £11.4 million over three years awarded instead to a consortium headed by the charity Choice Support, which currently runs the other regional contract and will take over the whole scheme from 1 April.
Choice Support will be working with organisations representing local communities, including small social enterprises and user-led organisations.
There had always been concerns about the decision in late 2015 to award the three regional contracts to an organisation mostly owned by Maximus, which already had a huge chunk of Department for Work and Pensions contracts and had a lengthy record of discrimination, incompetence and alleged fraud in the US.
Disability News Service (DNS) has been reporting on concerns about Remploy’s poor ExE performance since it began work on the contracts in early 2016, with initial reports of confusion, cutbacks and a stream of resignations, and some Remploy ExEs even being told to print their own ID badges.
It then emerged that Remploy had lied about the involvement of user-led organisations in the contracts.
Remploy/Maximus also cut the pay of ExEs to £9 an hour after it took over the contracts, while Choice Support paid its own ExEs £15 an hour in the central region, and will continue to do so for all ExEs across England.
A group of 30 current and former ExEs wrote to CQC repeatedly with evidence of Remploy’s poor performance.
In a 2018 letter to the regulator’s board, they described it as “poor, ineffective, chaotic, unfair, reactive and damaging to Experts, but more importantly, a disservice to people who use health and social care services”.
They accused Remploy of failing to ask for references when employing ExEs, providing poor induction and training, failing to offer feedback to ExEs, and asking them to travel more than 50 miles to inspections.
The process of tendering for the new contract had to be abandoned and restarted when only two organisations – Remploy and the Choice Support consortium – were willing to enter detailed negotiations.
And last month, a fresh scandal saw CQC forced to re-inspect scores of services after it emerged that two Remploy ExEs and a specialist advisor had been simply cutting and pasting comments from past inspections to use in their reports.
One disabled Remploy ExE, who is hoping to work for the new consortium, said none of her colleagues were surprised that the company had lost out to Choice Support, after Remploy’s poor performance over the last four years.
Although she loves the work, she said that she and her colleagues had grown increasingly concerned at Remploy’s failure to provide them with support, to train them properly and to check and provide feedback on their inspection reports.
She also said the cut and paste scandal had not been a surprise.
She said: “It’s not surprising because Remploy does not check our reports.
“I have never had feedback and I had never done that work before I started working as an ExE.
“I kept asking Remploy for feedback on my reports, but I didn’t get it.”
A Remploy/Maximus spokesperson said in a statement that the company was “proud of our work delivering the contract and of our consistent record of high performance, meeting all service targets in recent years”.
He claimed that Remploy/Maximus provided “ongoing training and support to ExEs, and in our most recent survey more than 98 per cent felt they had the right skills, experience and training for the activities they undertake.
“On the very rare occasions that those who work with us have not delivered the service to the standards we expect, we have taken immediate action and removed them from the programme.
“We take quality assurance and accuracy of reports incredibly seriously.”
A CQC spokesperson declined to answer questions about why the contract was not awarded to Remploy/Maximus because it said that would involve “commercially sensitive information”.
But she said: “The evaluation of bids took place between November and December 2019. Following which, the contract was awarded to Choice Support.
“It is anticipated that from 1 April 2020, Choice Support will deliver ExE services through a new single national contract, across all four regions.
“The contract award is for three years and contract value is estimated £11.4 million.
“We have written to all current ExE to inform them of the contract award and to reassure them of our continued commitment in the programme and next steps for them.”
Choice Support said it was “very pleased” to secure the contract.
Kim Arnold, the charity’s national ExE lead, said: “Choice Support have been working with CQC since 2010 to provide Experts by Experience and we are proud of our record for consistently delivering against all our key performance indicators.
“We believe that our Experts by Experience colleagues make an important and valuable contribution to the CQC inspection programme and are committed to working with CQC to ensure the continued success of the Experts programme.”
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