Disabled people helping to deliver a vital part of the care watchdog’s inspection programme were refused support workers, while one was bullied into resigning, documents obtained by Disability News Service (DNS) have revealed.
The internal reports – finally released following a freedom of information request submitted last June – show the scale of concern at the Care Quality Commission (CQC) with the performance of Remploy after it took over most of the Experts by Experience (ExE) programme.
Under the programme – which is likely to have cost nearly £6 million in 2016-17 – people with experiences of using services, including many disabled people, accompany CQC inspectors on their visits to services such as residential homes, hospitals and home care agencies across England.
But Remploy was hit almost immediately by accusations of incompetence when it took on the contracts in February last year, with claims of resignations, confusion and cutbacks.
The disability employment business – formerly owned by the government but now mostly owned by the scandal-hit US company Maximus – had been awarded three of four regional contracts to run the programme, covering the south and north of England, and London.
But the internal reports show that CQC was forced to write “formally” to Remploy three times over its concerns, while a CQC report in May 2016 found there had been “multiple issues with Remploy’s performance to date”.
By week 13, Remploy was still providing an ExE for less than three-quarters (73 per cent) of the necessary inspections of social care and health facilities.
The CQC report said Remploy was fulfilling its key target of confirming the names of ExEs taking part in inspections 28 days before they were scheduled to take place just 16 per cent of the time.
And it said there had been “multiple” changes to Remploy staff members working with the commission, which had led to “inconsistencies, confusion and communication difficulties”.
It also raised concerns about Remploy’s “lack of a viable recruitment action plan”, and warned that its online recruitment process “lacks a robust selection procedure”, with no face-to-face interviews with prospective ExEs and apparently no “selection criteria” used to recruit new staff for the highly-sensitive programme.
Remploy’s training for new ExEs was carried out solely online, with “no individual interaction”, the CQC report said.
The report said CQC had received “numerous concerns regarding support arrangements for ExE”, including disabled ExEs being refused support workers and “experts with disabilities bullied into leaving”.
A Remploy report, also released to DNS by CQC, shows that, three months into delivering the contracts, it had secured just 21 per cent of the required number of ExEs to deliver the three contracts, while between the end of February and the end of March 2016, the number of Remploy ExEs had plunged from 270 to 189.
Remploy admitted, at a meeting on 23 February this year, that its communications with ExEs and CQC inspectors had been “poor or absent”, and that its performance in all three contract regions had been “inadequate”.
It also admitted that its decision to slash the pay of ExEs had led to only a “small” number of ExEs joining Remploy from the consortium that previously ran the contract.
Remploy decided to cut the pay of its ExEs from a reported £17 per hour to just £10.16 per hour (and £11.58 in London) when it took over the contracts, before CQC agreed to subsidise the wages for existing ExEs (although not new recruits) for the first 14 months of the contracts.
That subsidy has ended and all Remploy ExEs are now paid £10.16 per hour (and £11.58 an hour in London).
The charity Choice Support, which runs the scheme in the central region, pays its ExEs £15 per hour.
Remploy said in the report that its performance had shown “steady improvement” in the second six months of its contracts, to January 2017, and that it was now “performing well” across all three.
It said the satisfaction rate among ExEs had been as low as 11 per cent, although this had now recovered to 76 per cent.
CQC only released the documents after DNS lodged a complaint with the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).
DNS first asked to see the reports last June, but CQC claimed that releasing them earlier would have “jeopardised the performance improvement” achieved by Remploy in the last six months.
A CQC spokesman told DNS that the failure to provide disabled ExEs with support workers was “addressed and resolved with Remploy”, while the bullying allegations were “appropriately investigated and managed with the relevant parties”.
He admitted that Remploy had experienced “significant underperformance” in the early stages of the contracts.
He said this was “in part due to the transfer of existing Experts by Experience from previous contracts taking longer than expected, resulting in insufficient numbers in position in the early months of the contract to cover the contracted inspections, exacerbated by recruitment and training of new Experts being slower than anticipated”.
He said there were also delays to CQC’s introduction of a new system for sharing information about supply and demand with both Remploy and Choice Support.
But the CQC spokesman said there had been a “very significant improvement” in Remploy’s performance.
CQC said that it would be “extremely rare” for an inspection to be cancelled because an ExE was not available, as their main role “is to talk with people using the service and to gather their views and experiences” and these duties can be carried out instead by the inspector.
A CQC spokesman admitted that Remploy only carried out telephone assessments rather than face-to-face interviews with potential new recruits, but he said that training was now delivered “in person as part of group sessions”.
He said: “We are satisfied with the current processes [for recruitment and training] they have in place and keep this under review.”
He also said that CQC had been forced to reiterate and clarify Remploy’s responsibilities in providing support workers for ExEs, but was now “satisfied with the current support arrangements”.
The CQC spokesman said there was only one incident of bullying reported and that Remploy had told CQC that it was “resolved to the individual’s satisfaction”.
Remploy declined to answer several specific questions about its performance, although it released a lengthy statement claiming that it was “proud to be delivering the programme to a high standard” and had been “meeting or exceeding” all of its “key performance indicators” on the contracts for several months.
A Remploy spokesman said: “Both Remploy and the CQC have acknowledged that there were challenges in the implementation of the ExE contract in 2016, and we have worked together and with our Experts by Experience (ExEs) to address these issues in a systematic and coordinated way.
“We continue to work closely with our ExEs to take on board feedback and make changes where necessary.
“Challenges during implementation included elements of the initial recruitment and training package, and after consultation with the CQC, inspectors and ExEs we took immediate action and developed a bespoke training package.
“Our recruitment process has been reengineered to ensure greater rigour, and Experts undertake phone-based and face-to-face training.”
He declined to confirm that Remploy had drastically cut pay rates compared with the consortium that previously managed the contracts, but claimed their rates were “benchmarked against roles in related sectors” and were “significantly above the living wage”.
He refused to say what action Remploy had taken over the issue of refusing support workers and bullying, but claimed that “any complaints relating to bullying are dealt with in line with Remploy’s stringent anti-bullying policy”.