Care Quality Commission begs for help from charities it has just replaced

Experts who made 500 inspections a month for the care home watchdog refused to reapply for their jobs

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The Independent Online

The body responsible for ensuring care homes are run to an adequate standard is so short of qualified consultants to help with inspections that it has had to ask the charities it replaced with a private company to help out.

Remploy, the former government agency that has turned into a for profit firm, won a £7m contract to replace the charities in London, the North and South of England, starting a week ago. However, hundreds of “Experts by Experience” have refused to reapply for their jobs after Remploy offered half their previous £17-per-hour pay.

As a result, the Care Quality Commission has had to ask the charities to keep providing the consultants for another two weeks, despite choosing Remploy to take over the inspections programme.

The CQC offered to provide a “buffer” payment to existing experts so they would be paid £15 per hour for the next six months, after which their salary could drop to just £8.40 per hour (£9.25 in London) – which is what Remploy is paying new recruits.

The subsequent delays to inspections led the regulator to go cap in hand to the charities and ask them for help. 

A spokesman for Choice Support, whose consortium won the remaining contract in central England, said: “We have agreed with the Care Quality Commission to continue to support the… programme for a number of inspections in the North, South and London regions for the next two weeks.”

Every month more than 500 experts, with personal experience of care services, are sent on CQC inspections across adult social care, primary care and hospitals. They play a vital role in the inspection process. However, hundreds of experts have quit their roles – angered by a combination of the pay offer and the fact that a private firm, majority owned by US outsourcing giant Maximus, is profiting from the deal.

David Behan, the CQC chief executive, came in for further criticism last week when he claimed that the deal with Remploy was “a very, very good piece of procurement activity undertaken”. 

Claire Bolderson, who had been an expert with Age UK for two years up until Remploy took over, has been writing about the situation on her blog: “Some Experts by Experience who did express an interest in joining the private company have had no response. Others were immediately passed on to sub-contractors whose contact has been equally patchy.

“A few were asked to do inspections. They were told to send in scanned copies of their criminal record checks. (Not the normal practice.) None were offered a contract… or given the reporting template needed to do the job properly… None have yet been issued with formal ID. I could go on…

“Not surprisingly then, the CQC desperately needs help. And who better to turn to than the charities that successfully ran the programme for years?”

A CQC spokesman said: “We can confirm that we have currently agreed with Choice Support, which won our Experts by Experience contact for the central region, to provide Experts by Experience to a number of inspections in the North, South and London regions over the course of this week and next.”

The regulator had previously said that existing experts’ pay would fall from £15 per hour after six months to £12.50 per hour for the next six months, although that is no longer being guaranteed. 

When asked why there was no longer any reference to the £12.50 rate, the spokesman said: “The statement on our website continues to reflect our current position.”