COVID-19 care and infection rates

As infection rates rise across the country, the Care Regulator has warned that some hospitals and care homes are failing to take action to protect patients and those in care from Covid-19 and that specific action will be taken going forward, They also urge member of the public to provide feedback.

Mr Ian Trenholm, the Chief Executive of the Care Quality Commission (CQC), in an interview with The Independent, said a series of inspections had revealed a minority of care homes and hospitals were not doing enough to prevent spread of the virus.  

Due to the pandemic, the CQC is being forced to move away from its regular inspections of hospitals, care homes and GP surgeries but Mr Trenholm said it would be amplifying efforts to encourage patients to give feedback on the care they have received. Mr Trenholm emphasised that the watchdog would be more explicit going forward in relation to the action it takes.

Mr Trenholm, a former inspector in the Royal Hong Kong Police Service, said: “My ambition is that these big inspection events become less frequent and that we have shorter but potentially more frequent visits or use the information we’ve had from the public plus better ways of handling data.” He said this would NOT mean hospitals and care homes having no inspections for years,  as the Regulator have ‘backstop frequencies’ of inspections and reserved the right to carry out a full inspection where it had any concerns.

Improvements to the way patients gave feedback has led to a doubling in the number of contacts from the public in the last 5 months with whistleblowers in social care helping to target inspections. Mr Trenholm noted:‘We can’t be absolutely everywhere inspecting things. What we are committed to is to look for new ways to get the message out there that CQC is listening and that we are interested in what’s going on. We also want to be clearer with people around what we’ve done with the information that they have given us. We’re painfully aware that if you have a night in a hotel you feedback on TripAdvisor, but you tend  not to feedback on people who have just saved your life.’

The CQC looked at infection prevention  in 135 NHS hospitals. 43 GP surgeries and 300 care homes (including 59 where specific concerns were outlined).

In care homes, the Regulator said most were managing risks well, but in some high-risk homes policies were out of date and PPE was either not being used or being worn incorrectly. Mr Trenholm highlighted  the case of a care home that appeared to have made a “conscious decision” not to follow the rules on wearing masks and gloves. This care home is now in the process of being closed down by the watchdog, amid safety concerns.

Mr Trenholm stated “We need to get everybody into the position where we can normalise social distancing and PPE and that people don’t feel that in their particular circumstances, they’re different… Nobody’s blaming anybody for having covid in their institution, but we can blame them if it gets out of control in their institution.”

It was revealed the CQC will also be looking closely at patients struggling to access services due to the impact of Covid-19, and Mr Trenholm warned that the CQC would take action if some groups were disproportionately affected. Mr Trenholm added: “I think access to services is important and we are starting to see people talking about delays in getting cancer treatment… What we want to do is understand is why people are not getting the treatment that they need and if we’re seeing inequalities perhaps in the way that that’s panning out. If we see that people, perhaps because of their ethnicity or their socio-economic group, are not receiving the care that they need, then we as a regulator want to be in a position to talk about that.”

This interview raises interesting issues for those who are seeking to blame care providers for the  contraction of the virus to workers or those they care for. It also highlights those that are vulnerable who will be affected  indirectly by Covid-19.

Niamh Fielding, Solicitor, BLM

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