The appointment of Andrea Sutcliffe as Chief Inspector for Social Care at the Care Quality Commission is a highly commendable one. Not only is she knowledgeable about the care sector (see for example http://www.guardian.co.uk/social-care-network/2013/jul/15/what-good-homecare-looks-like) but she also has her own personal experiences to draw upon (http://www.whentheygetolder.co.uk/finding-care-for-older-relatives/) and that combination, along with her naturally open approach, bode well for the future inspection of social care.
Yet that future is strewn with challenges that Andrea first needs to tackle. The general perception of social care is not great and trust in the Regulators has been severely dented over recent weeks. The first challenge will be defining a model of inspection that will ensure poor provision is identified and stamped out yet this model must also reflect the nature of the care sector and the huge variations within it.
Yesterday, for example, the new Chief Inspector for Hospitals, Prof Sir Mike Richards, outlined a model which he frequently referred to as ‘an army’, 20 or more inspectors marching into a hospital to inspect all aspects of care provision and ensure the meeting of standards. Unfortunately, in social care that will not work as, in many instances that many inspectors would outnumber both residents and staff!
The variation in social care is completely different from that of hospitals. Social care covers care homes and home care, it covers care and support for the elderly and care and support for those with learning disabilities, it covers large care providers with 100’s of homes as well as micro providers with just a few beds. Finding a model of social care inspection that fully encompasses the variation while ensuring consistency is, in itself, a challenge.
The Care Quality Commission has recently stated that it intends to have more specialist inspectors and social care could really benefit from this approach. For example recent reports have highlighted training and development issues with Health and Social Care staff and having learning and development specialists as part of the inspection process can help raise awareness of the importance of staff development, encourage providers to focus on training and development and help identify failings where providers fail to implement staff training and development. Similarly specialists in infection control or nutrition could have a significant impact.
One thing that would be good to see, and may well happen given Andrea’s former job, is a focus on best practice information and its application both by providers and inspectors. Resources, for example, from the three main national bodies, Skills for Care, National Skills Academy for Social Care and, of course, the Social Care Institute of Excellence should be routinely be embedded in care practice and those who inspect should also be fully familiar with this in order to ensure inspections are informed. One challenge has always been getting best practice information through to all providers, it is easy for providers to say they don’t have time to look at these things or, in the worst cases, believe they know what they are doing and don’t need any advice. If providers know their inspectors will look at this then they are far more likely to make to time to look at and use this information.
The regulatory framework has increasingly moved toward an outcome based approach, if providers and inspectors do not access the knowledge of what excellent outcomes look like then that system fails.
Undoubtedly, Andrea Sutcliffe has a challenge ahead, one that I am sure she will meet head on, and, ultimately, social care can only benefit by having such an effective leader at the helm.