Hospital inspectors facing ‘intolerable’ workload, leaked CQC documents reveal

One inspector raised concerns that inspection teams were working late, and often consuming alcohol

health reporter

Hospital inspectors warn their workload has become “unsustainable”, as leaked documents reveal serious concerns about pressures faced by staff, inconsistent inspections and even drinking on the job.

In notes leaked from a meeting between staff and management at the Care Quality Commission (CQC), inspectors reveal a wide range of concerns about a new inspection regime at the hospital regulator. One inspector described feeling “used, deflated and exhausted”, another “exhausted and drained” and a third said they felt like “a workhorse”.

In one of the notes, from a meeting of the CQC’s Joint National Consultative Committee and leaked to the Health Service Journal, an inspector raises concerns that inspection teams were working late, and often consuming alcohol.

“While the inspectors may feel this did not impair their judgement it would make good reading in the media,” the note read. “If the [hospital] trust heard that decisions about their compliance were being made whilst staff were consuming alcohol any judgement may be found invalid.”

The CQC underwent a radical overhaul last year after widespread criticism of its response to care scandals at Mid Staffordshire and Morecambe Bay. A new chief inspector of hospitals was appointed and inspection teams were expanded to include more health professionals and patient “experts by experience”. The organisation set itself the task of re-inspecting all of England’s hospitals. Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary, has positioned himself as a patients’ champion during his time in office and has been a vocal advocate of more muscular hospital inspections.

However, the leaks reveal discontent with the role inspectors have played, in a highly-charged political atmosphere, with one inspector saying they felt like “part of a lynch mob not a serious regulator”. Another warned inspection reports were “inconsistent”.

Responding to the leaks, Professor Sir Mike Richards, CQC’s chief inspector of hospitals, said the organisation had “acknowledged we need to learn and respond to feedback to fine-tune the new inspections and ensure the model is sustainable in the long term”.

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