Despite early Government promises to the contrary, it always seemed obvious that the pandemic would hit care homes (residents, relatives and staff) with some force. A letter dated 22 May 2020 from the Relatives and Residents’ Association (RRA) to the CQC makes very clear the views of the RRA, who accuse the CQC of failing to protect care homes.
The RRA letter describes the following failings on the part of the CQC, and demands action :-
- Inadequate provision of data on care home deaths to the Government. Failing to do so resulted in the Government having inaccurate data and under-estimating the seriousness of the situation.
- Showing a lack of urgency, and instead complacency. For example, the CQC did nothing to rebut the early statement from Public Health England that it was “very unlikely” that care homes would be affected by the pandemic.
- Failing to represent the needs of care homes for PPE, testing and tracing.
- Providing guidance for care homes (the “Emergency Framework) only on 1 May, over six weeks after lockdown was announced, and even then, providing no guidance for care homes on how to deal with anxious families.
- Allowing standards to fall due to the decision to suspend inspections of care homes from 16 March 2020. (The CQC have said they would still arrange an inspection wherever they are aware of “significant risks” such as allegations of abuse, but otherwise, any monitoring is being carried out remotely. We understand that approximately 2000 checks of care homes have not been carried out in the last two months that otherwise would have been.)
The letter calls for action, asking the CQC to ensure that care homes have parity with the NHS in fighting the infection, and to use its leadership voice to raise awareness.
The concerns raised by RRA reflect the anecdotal impressions given in the media from care home residents, relatives and staff of a feeling of abandonment: relatives largely unable to visit, GP’s staying away and CQC inspections largely suspended.
Perhaps this is what happens when social care and the NHS are not properly integrated. Adult social care is unlikely ever to have been in a good position to cope with a pandemic, and those weaknesses have now been exposed. The CQC are of course only one part of the picture and could even be said to be the wrong target of RRA’s frustration, but we will always wonder whether strong leadership and earlier pressure from the CQC in the right places might at least have been able to identify the likely problems and to take earlier mitigating steps.
If and when a claim arises, will the CQC behaviour here be scrutinised in detail?
Written by Katie Costello, partner at BLM