The Care Quality Commission (CQC) has set out its strategic ambitions for the next five years. Underlying these ambitions is the unavoidable need to balance budget cuts with its vital role of monitoring and enforcing care standards in England. What they face is no small challenge.

This strategy document comes relatively quickly on the heels of CQC’s new inspection regime (which seeks evidence of compliance for each of the identified key lines of enquiry. These include: if the service inspected is safe, caring, effective, responsive and well-led?) CQC now also propose to enhance the Provider Information Return (PIR) to include a self-assessment of the provider’s own service quality, reporting this on an annual basis on-line.

What’s clear is that CQC is seeking to place the onus more on care providers to develop their own quality assessment tools, preferably using innovation and technology. Wherever possible this should be in a format that can be shared with other relevant agencies and partners. In addition, CQC plans to regularise inspection frequencies (within 12 months for new services, ‘inadequate services’ every 6 months, ‘requires improvement’ within 12 months and then less frequently for good and outstanding services). This might perhaps seem more hands-off, but it actually means that a service which receives an undesirable rating and rightly remedies it, may well remain stuck with that rating for a long period of time, hampering their business.

It’s also worth pointing that that CQC says it also intends to increase the number of unannounced inspections focusing on just one of the key lines of enquiry.

So, whilst budget constraints might suggest that the CQC will have no option but to take a lighter touch towards inspections and regulation, their strategy document indicates that as far as inspections and enforcement are concerned, it would be wrong to anticipate anything of the sort. Instead, while they are definitely pushing more responsibility for evidencing compliance to the providers (e.g. with the enhanced self-assessment reporting obligations), the penalties for non-compliance remaining just as stringent as before.

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