So workers in the care home sector have signed a petition of no confidence in the Care Quality Commission, following the revelations of the BBC Panorama programme of appalling treatment of patients at the Winterbourne View hospital. Now the CQC is the body that the Government plans should take over the functions of the HFEA. Apparently the idea is that the HFEA will fit inside the CQC with its functions and most of its staff intact until new legislation abolishes the HFEA, and then the CQC will effect a seamless take-over. Indeed the HFEA staff are moving to the CQC premises next month and will share back-office functions, thus saving over £1m. This is all supposed to reassure us that things will be ok.
Frankly there’s been enough of criticism of the CQC to make one worried. One of Gordon Brown’s supposed money-saving ideas, the CQC was only created in April 2009, taking over the functions of the Healthcare Commission, the Commission for Social Care Inspection, and the Mental Health Act Commission. So it’s responsible for inspecting and regulating all hospitals, care homes, mental health institutions, and soon all primary care providers (GPs). It’s a huge remit, and the jury is clearly out as to whether it is going to cope. It has a tiny board (a chair and five non executive members) which meets only four times a year, and has or is planning to have 18 advisory groups. It has one on “dignity and nutrition”. You might hope it will be busy after the Winterbourne programme was aired at the end of May. But the board will be meeting in September. So that’s all right then.
Now the HFEA regularly has difficult ethical issues to address and has 19 members, all with a range of relevant experience: clinicians, nurses, journalists, patient representatives, professors of law, genetics, philosophy, all impressive people. As an Authority they meet seven times a year, and members serve on many sub-committees. It’s seen as a real distinction to serve on HFEA. Can we really expect such people to be interested in serving on a CQC advisory group? Or for donor conception issues to be anywhere on the horizon of the CQC board?
There’s no reason why the HFEA shouldn’t still share premises and back office functions with the CQC, thus making the savings the Government wants. It’s not a perfect body by any means but you do have to ask, if saving money was the aim and this is now happening, why abolish it? To do that the Government is going to have to get new legislation passed by Parliament. Given the trouble they are having with the current Health Bill, they shouldn’t count on it.