‘Can we ask CQC for more time?’

Nicole Ridgwell of Ridouts answers your legal questions

Our service is undergoing many changes after being recommissioned and we haven’t enough hours in the day. We are very short staffed and a CQC inspection is the last thing we need – we haven’t even time to complete the paperwork. Are we legally obliged to comply with the CQC’s timescale?

Nicole answers:

The short answer is yes! If you are regulated by the Care Quality Commission as a provider of regulated activities, you must comply with the reasonable requests of your regulator. The CQC in return must produce guidance to help providers to comply with the regulations. Regulation 21 of the HSCA 2008 (Regulated Activity) Regulations 2014 (as amended) says that registered persons ‘must have regard’ to this guidance.

There is a level of discretion in the regulations, in that the provider is responsible for meeting the regulations and deciding how to do this. It is not CQC’s role to tell providers what they must do to deliver their services. However, there are certain fundamental aspects of the regulations which are non-negotiable, and compliance with the request for pre-inspection information is one.

A provider which considers itself to have a good relationship with the local CQC inspector might consider asking for a little extra time to produce the requested paperwork, but I would urge caution. Any such request must be phrased very carefully. Inspectors are rating on the five key questions; the fifth of which is ‘well-led’, analysing the leadership and organisational culture of providers. Being able to show how you document your provider activities is key to this. Informing your inspector prior to inspection that you do not have the current capacity to demonstrate compliance is unlikely to be interpreted kindly.

While any provider (let alone the short-staffed and under resourced majority) may be tempted to consider providing pre-inspection paperwork as an unnecessary inconvenience, it may prove motivating to look at it another way. Providing evidence prior to the inspection is a key part of the inspection itself and can help to shape the physical inspection to come. A provider who appears enthusiastic and engaged will be viewed very differently by the attending inspectors than a provider who appeared truculent and unwilling.

My recommendation would be that providers aim to take the pressure off the last-minute scramble to pull information together by preparing for the inspection throughout the year. Consider the type of information CQC has requested in the past and prepare a file with that information. Include your policies and procedures (ensuring, of course, that they are up-to-date and reflective of your current practice), service user feedback, letters from families, and external assessments.

Feeding this file throughout the year will be significantly less time-consuming, less stressful, and (given that you will be including all the positive news from your service) will be an encouraging reminder of the successes over the past year.

Nicole Ridgwell is solicitor at Ridouts Solicitors