High-profile scandals involving care homes and hospitals that should have been more rigorously vetted have left patients and families unable to trust the body charged with ensuring decent standards, according to a body of senior MPs.
In a damning verdict on the troubled Care Quality Commission, published today, the Health Select Committee warns of a worrying "disconnect" between official results of inspections and the real standards experienced by patients and their families.
The CQC was established in 2008 to ensure minimum standards are met in England's health and social care sector. Yet five years on it has yet to define its core purpose and what its primary function should be, according to committee chairman Stephen Dorrell.
The report warns that there was a danger that patient safety was "being obscured by other competing priorities". It said this was particularly worrying as the Government had abolished the National Patient Safety Agency – an advisory body tasked with identifying risks to patients receiving NHS care – and absorbed its functions into a new quango, the NHS Commissioning Board.
The committee called on the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, pictured, to reconsider whether the CQC should be responsible for patient safety, arguing that the body would have to win back public confidence first.
Controversies involving care homes and hospitals that had successfully registered with the CQC have shown that residents feel unable to trust the results of inspections, the report says. It highlights, for example, how the CQC's registration process had not been "effective in ensuring that all essential standards were being met" at University Hospitals Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust. The maternity unit at one of the trust's hospitals – Furness General Hospital in Barrow, Cumbria – is at the centre of a police investigation concerning a number of deaths.
"It is failures such as those witnessed at Morecambe Bay which undermine public confidence in the CQC's essential standards," the report states.
The document called for the organisation's approval process to be more rigorous so that the public could feel assured any provider registered by the CQC would provide good quality care.
David Behan, the CQC's new chief executive, said: "In our strategic review we consulted widely on a clear statement of our purpose and role. We also set out our intentions to improve how we communicate with the public, make better use of information, and work more effectively."
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