CQC: State of Care 2014-2017

Today the Care Quality commission (CQC) releases its major report on the state of adult social care in England for the latest wave of inspections. The Report provides an excellent and informative overview of the relevant health of different parts of the sector and there are clearly issues in some locations and with some providers. Looking at our local picture, Oxfordshire fares well compared to neighbours and we congratulate local services for doing their best in difficult times. Predictably, it is the terrible occurrences that make the national and local headlines. And there should be no excuse for avoidable harm – we welcome the authorities stepping in when they need to.

But when looking at headlines, we must consider the overall context that adult social care works in. This is a highly complex provision of care for vulnerable, elderly and disabled people (about 460,000 people across England), delivered in buildings, in people’s homes and in the community (in over 16,000 locations). Of this care in the community, including people’s homes, care is provided for more than half a million people through around 8,500 services.

This is a sizeable sector; a multi-billion pound industry working with complexity and vulnerability in a very pressured environment. It is highly regulated, not just by the Care Quality Commission, but also through local authority contracts. The governance is complex and lengthy, involving layers of local government and the NHS where a provider also delivers health-related or NHS-commissioned services. It is increasingly challenging to ensure that the core requirements of Safe, Effective, Caring, Responsive and Well-led as inspected by CQC’s key lines of enquiry, are achieved and maintained.

Not least of the pressures as CQC acknowledge is staffing levels. Unless you have taken leave of this planet in the last year, you will know that Brexit may bring powers to ‘regain control of our country’, but it also brings considerable risk to recruitment of people to do the essential work this country needs. That includes care workers, Registered Managers and Registered Nurses in particular. The lack of a named person in the last two levels of responsibility will automatically mean a struggle for a provider to be well-led. And we already have a shortage of staff due to several factors, some societal and some funding related. We appear to be living in a less caring society at the moment, with people focusing more on themselves and their own interests, than others. Funding for all sorts of public services is such a topical issue, that you would be forgiven for thinking that it wasn’t a priority discussion topic at Government level. However, for all the reports from esteemed, informed and influential organisations such as the Local Government Association, Skills for Care, Age UK, VODG and many others, Government still appears to be stalling, side-stepping and shelving the issue. Perhaps only a horrendous outcome of under-investment, such as in north Kensington, will alert government to act, but it doesn’t feel that way. Further issues underlining under-investment will be greeted with more shrugs and graphs demonstrating an increasing national deficit. Providers are working at increasing financial risk. It’s quite possible that a major care provider in England will go out of business this year, many minor ones will certainly go to the wall, heaping more pressure on those working alongside them.

Care providers will always work to achieve CQC’s Mum Test. They make a real difference to hundreds of thousands of lives; to those receiving care and in the process liberating families to be economically active. There are few people living in England who are not directly connected to adult social care. The problem is that when the issue of funding is raised, Mum’s the word and it’s no secret, that Government is failing the sector, whilst focusing on its own family. Stop fixing your party, and start fixing the country.