The National Care Forum (NCF) is calling for a reversal of the decision to allow Care Quality Commission (CQC) inspectors into care homes without testing.
In an open letter to Matt Hancock, Secretary of State of Health and Social Care, and Helen Whately, Minister for Care, NCF said it considers the decision to exclude CQC inspectors from weekly testing prior to visiting care settings an “extraordinary decision”, which is “not credible” and “very counter-productive”.
Vic Rayner, executive director at the NCF, said: “We welcome scrutiny and oversight by the regulator and we all want the CQC to be able to regulate effectively. However, this must include routine regular testing for those inspectors tasked with conducting on-site inspection visits to care settings.
Current DHSC policy to limit the spread of COVID and backed by the £600m Infection Control Fund instigated a whole-home testing regime designed to test all staff within care homes, regardless of role.
The NCF said that the decision to not test CQC inspectors, who spend a number of hours on-site in care homes, moving between different groups of residents and staff, and who will be visiting potentially multiple homes, undermines the policy.
Rayner continued: “Not providing regular testing for CQC inspectors is an extraordinary decision. For months central government and the regulator have been requiring care homes to essentially eradicate the movement of staff and the flow of people, including close family relatives, into homes. Having done this, care homes are now being asked to let inspectors into homes without knowing whether or not they are COVID positive.
“Understandably, they are both shocked and hugely concerned. If Inspectors are coming in, they need to be tested – there should be no further debate about this. We recognise that testing capacity is always part of these decisions, but it seems likely that it will be a relatively small number of CQC staff who will be front facing and going into homes, so including them in routine regular testing will not have a significant impact on capacity. We call on government to reverse this decision and introduce weekly testing for inspectors immediately.”
Commenting on the decision, the CQC said in an update for providers: “We take our role in infection prevention and control (IPC) very seriously and have been considering the precautions our inspection teams should take as we increase our on-site activity.
“We have consulted with the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) about accessing COVID-19 tests for inspectors. DHSC have considered the matter carefully and have assessed that CQC inspectors do not meet the criteria for weekly asymptomatic testing, as inspectors are not required to undertake ‘hands on’ closer personal contact with people.”
The decision also applies to other colleagues undertaking inspection visits, such as specialist advisors and experts by experience.
The CQC added: “This approach is in line with what has been agreed with other professionals, and DHSC will continually review their policies in line with emerging evidence. If the evidence means the criteria needs to change, they will advise us accordingly and we will update [providers].”