Andrea Sutcliffe, Chief Inspector of Adult Social Care at the Care Quality Commission.
Each week I write an email for everyone working in the Adult Social Care Directorate at CQC — for my first blog of 2016 I thought I’d share my New Year message.
Happy New Year!
Thank you to everyone who worked over the festive season and welcome back to those of us who enjoyed a bit of a break. I hope you were not affected by the bad weather and floods.
I spent time catching up with family and friends, a quick visit to Prague for Christmas and New Year in Suffolk. But like so many who work in this sector, social care and the job were never far from my mind with staff across the country continuing to deliver services despite the challenges caused by the weather and then various stories making headline news.
Throughout the break I continued to receive messages from all sorts of people — internally, appreciation from staff for the ASC Advent Calendar; and externally, some commenting positively on the work of CQC and passing on best wishes; some highlighting concerns about services and some providers complaining about inspection outcomes. Social care never rests!
One message arrived while I was away so I ended up reading it on Christmas Day. It was signed anonymously by “disgruntled and fed up inspectors” who questioned my fitness for the job, highlighted my failings and invited me to use the New Year as an opportunity to look for something else to do. It was primed and timed to hurt — and it did. But it also made me think particularly as it was then followed by a blog from academic Professor Chris Hatton who opened up a twitter debate about whether people working inside the system can really make effective change happen.
I know I am unlikely to have universal support in this role, internally and externally as the variation in those messages shows. But if I am to continue I need to make sure that what we are doing really does make a difference for people who use services, their families and carers. So my start of the New Year message is my reflection on how I think I and CQC can live up to that aspiration.
Our first and foremost duty is to act on behalf of people who are using services — many are fearful of raising concerns, some do not have anyone to speak on their behalf and even if they do, we should not be relying upon distressed or grieving families to challenge the system and secure change. That has to be our responsibility when others are failing.
Of course there are challenges — the comprehensive spending review (and I am coming in early with my understatement of the year here) was not a good settlement for social care and may lead to a further exacerbation of the variation in quality we highlighted in last year’s State of Care report. It may also impact on capacity as providers withdraw, particularly from the state funded sector.
In these circumstances, there may be pressure on us to settle for second best but we must never do that. A key part of our purpose is to encourage services to improve — by setting clear expectations, monitoring and inspecting against them, highlighting good practice and taking action when providers fail to meet their legal obligations.
None of this is easy, but one of the striking aspects of last year’s Staff Survey was how committed CQC staff are to our purpose and our core value of integrity — doing the right thing. That’s my personal commitment too.
CQC over the years has been through some difficult times and we have not got everything right — I know that is frustrating for staff working hard to deliver registrations and inspections. Our core value of excellence focuses on us being a high performing organisation, looking for best practice and improvements in our ways of doing things. This is now more important than ever as our budget reduces over the next five years — having slow systems or clumsy processes isn’t very efficient.
There are some clear areas of activity for us to focus on in the next year — registration is key and making sure we prioritise and develop our improvement work in that area is a clear personal objective for me and the registration team. We will continue to work on improving our approach to inspections, making sure that the good progress we made in 2015 in delivering inspections and publishing reports more quickly is sustained and strengthened. Some of that will require support from other areas of CQC and our business plan will set out how we will work collaboratively to make sure that happens. Our specialist functions of market oversight, corporate providers and safeguarding will also continue to make an important contribution — I am particularly keen that we make much better use of the wealth of information and insight the corporate provider team has to support inspectors better and hold providers to account.
None of this can be achieved without our third organisational value of teamwork. One of our key commitments is to undertake a comprehensive rating inspection of all services registered at the start of the new approach. That has been hampered in some areas, primarily by high levels of vacancies, while other fully-staffed teams are motoring ahead. Individual inspectors have also spent a lot of time undertaking enforcement which has taken them away from inspection activity.
Within teams and across the whole directorate we need to use and share our resources wisely so we can all succeed in meeting our commitments together. That will have a direct impact on some of you who will be asked to undertake work in other areas or support colleagues in different ways. But again, the staff survey showed how strong the team dynamic is in CQC and particularly in this directorate so I am sure we can make it work.
Which brings me back to making a difference and our final organisational value of caring. We say “we are passionate about making a positive difference because we care about people” — that means listening and acting upon what people tell us; thinking about each other; working in co-production with providers, commissioners, partners, people who use services, their families and carers. Caring isn’t easy — it’s tough. But it’s why we work for CQC and why we need to be open and honest about what we do and how we do it. Consequently, I will be sharing this message as my website blog this week.
So, I’m not going to be looking for a new job. I am tremendously privileged to work at CQC and there is still a lot to do. But I think our focus on quality and people, working together as a team and improving our processes will mean that we can and will make a difference to people’s lives in 2016.
Thank you and best wishes for the year ahead,
Originally published at www.cqc.org.uk.