The CQC launched its Emergency Support Framework (‘ESF’) on 1 May 2020 in response to the Covid-19 pandemic and the suspension of its inspection programme on 16 March 2020. The framework sets out how the CQC will liaise with care providers to help them monitor the impact of the pandemic and identify any safety risks.
The ESF essentially involves a telephone call between the manager and the inspector via Microsoft Teams or telephone. These calls are prioritised based on the CQC’s knowledge of a service and information received from various sources. Services with a higher level of risk will be given priority. The calls are focused on 4 key areas: safe care and treatment; staffing arrangements; protection from abuse; and assurance processes, monitoring, and risk management.
- Preparing for your call
Whilst this is not an inspection and a service is not rated following the discussion, it is, in effect, a type of performance assessment. It is therefore important to remember that whatever is discussed during the call may inform any judgments on compliance and any decisions taken in respect of future monitoring, inspection planning and enforcement action. The ESF is, however, a fairly straight forward process and there’s no need to panic, provided you are prepared.
The CQC have published a set of 15 questions for adult social care providers on their website so it would be advisable to review these before your call. The questions are based on four key areas that providers would expect to be assessed on during a routine inspection, albeit the questions are focused more on how you are managing in those areas relative to the pandemic. However, providers should bear in mind that the CQC may divert from the published questions and ask additional questions, and not all of the questions may be asked. The questions are also likely to change over time so it is vital that you keep up-to-date with the most recently published questions.
If any shortfalls or areas of concern are identified during the course of your preparations, you should think about developing an action plan to address those areas and set reasonable timescales for any required actions. You might also want to think about compiling a folder of relevant documents on your computer so that you can easily share these with the inspector during the call.
- The Summary Record
Whilst the CQC have made clear that this is not a regulatory process, this is somewhat misleading. The CQC are carrying out their regulatory function of monitoring services and assessing compliance in these four key areas and have made it clear that the outcome of the call will form part of their monitoring information about a service.
Although there is no factual accuracy process for dealing with the Summary Record like with a draft inspection report, if you think something is unfair; you have evidence to suggest something to the contrary; or there are any factual errors with the Summary Record, you should bring this to the CQC’s attention immediately upon receipt. To assist with this, it would be advisable to have someone take notes during the discussion so that you have a contemporaneous note of the call yourself, as the call is not audio-recorded.
- Potential consequences
Whilst the Summary Record is not published, it could be relied upon for future inspection planning and indeed, to justify the use of the CQC’s enforcement powers later on. The discussion you have with an inspector could also lead to an inspection, even during any continuing suspension of routine inspections, if the CQC are satisfied that they have identified serious concerns over the way you are managing and/or they consider there to be a high risk of harm to residents.
It is also extremely important to note that any concerns identified as a result of this discussion may be shared with your local authority’s safeguarding team, as well as other partner agencies. Whilst the Summary Record is not published in the public domain, it would also likely be a disclosable record should anyone make a Freedom of Information request, for example, in the future.