Safeguarding concerns in the UK care sector are falling from the highs seen during the coronavirus pandemic, new figures show.
From January to May this year, more than 9,000 safeguarding alerts and concerns have been raised in the sector. This compares to a total of 21,886 in 2021, with figures hitting 23,116 last year.
The figures obtained through a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to the Care Quality Commission (CQC) – conducted by law firm Pannone Corporate – also show that inspections in the UK’s care sector are on track to fall, continuing the downward trend seen since 2019.
Announced inspections fell from a peak figure of 6,684 in 2019 to just 1,458 in January to May 2023. Unannounced inspection also appear to be decreasing. According to the FOI figures, 2,223 unannounced inspections were carried out in the first five months of 2023. In 2016, this reached a high of 19,586.
The significant reduction has been attributed not only to the pandemic, with the CQC temporarily ceasing all physical inspections from 16 March 2020, but also to the evolving regulatory model being adopted by the Commission.
Bill Dunkerley, regulatory lawyer and associate partner at law firm, Pannone Corporate, commented: “The seismic impact of the pandemic on the care sector is widely documented and this can be seen in the figures released by the CQC around safeguarding concerns and inspections.
“What’s also clear is that the CQC is not static in its approach and the standards which it expects providers to achieve continue to evolve. This is evident in the introduction ‘Single Assessment Framework’, as well as the initial evidence-gathering phase being simplified into six new categories, to streamline the information collated. The feedback received will allow the CQC to make individual assessments more bespoke to individual providers, for example in respect of their delivery model or population group.”
The FOI research also shows that since March 2021, the CQC has received nearly 37,000 whistleblowing enquiries, with more than 6,000 being received in the first five months of 2023. The number of complaints raised during the same 26-month period topped 135,000. However, with only 25,017 made between January to May 2023, it’s unlikely the figure will exceed the 62,591 seen in total in 2022.
Dunkerley said: “The trend across the board is a general decline in headline figures, with complaints, whistleblowing, and safeguarding concerns all likely to be lower in 2023 based on the current statistics.
“As the CQC continues to roll out its new regulatory model, and Inspectors find their feet with the new data-driven approach, it will be interesting to see how the figures develop over the coming months and years. It may be the case that the CQC’s new approach results in a permanent reduction to the frequency of inspections, but equally may also result in an increase in the use of its more dynamic powers, such as notices, which can have an immediate and profound impact on a provider’s continuing operations.”
Dunkerley added: “Whilst the CQC has modified the form of its regulatory function, and amended its assessment criteria over the years, its fundamental roles have remained consistent: ensuring the safety and quality of care of service users; and maintenance of appropriate standards of behaviour by providers.
“These are the same core objectives held by providers, and so long as they continue to put these demonstrable tenets at the centre of their business, then they are likely to be well-placed to respond to any future changes in the CQC’s operations and regulatory model.”
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