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  • Sarah Whitebloom

Not in the public interest: CQC refuses to say if 'unsafe' homes were hit by Covid but will...soon

England's care regulator, the Care Quality Commission, has, since May, refused to say if homes it knew to be 'unsafe' were sites of the Covid outbreaks, which have seen thousands of deaths among UK care home residents. In an email to OLM in the last few days, the care regulator maintained the 'public interest' would not be served by the publication of this information.

But, the CQC said it will publish the information - next month - along with its own analysis.

Some 2,500 care homes in England (including 2,000 for older people) have failed their most recent inspections and are either officially branded 'Inadequate' or 'Require Improvement' - most of these have a negative rating for 'safety'. Hundreds of homes have never had a good report from the care regulator and yet remain home to thousands of vulnerable adults, many of whom live with dementia.

Following months of emails, asking for information, OLM put in a Freedom of Information request in July, requesting statistics about homes caught up in the pandemic.

According to data from the Office of National Statistics, an estimated 55% of care homes were affected by Covid, with just 10% of residents testing positive for the virus.

But the CQC was reluctant either to say which sort of homes, in terms of official safety ratings, were involved or which care home owners were affected. And over the months, the regulator has ignored or refused requests for information.

Even the FOI request was dismissed and then ignored, until earlier this month when the matter was raised in the Spectator.

In the following days, the CQC has said it will release the information in October, when it has had a chance to produce some of its own analysis. It is the same argument the regulator has been using since May for refusing to publish. It pledged to publish in June and in July, once it had completed its analysis.

According to the CQC's email: 'We believe that the public interest would not be served by disclosure of the information at this stage, however it will be served when the data is published in the State of Care report, which will be in October 2020.'

In its email, the CQC also refused to provide details of any care home owners whose homes may have suffered disproportionately from Covid. In the FOI response, it said: 'We do not believe that it is the right thing – at the moment – for CQC to publish information about which locations have experienced COVID-19 deaths, or about the number of deaths at individual care services. Whilst there is great value in care providers communicating with people who use their services, families and loved ones, we consider that releasing the raw data held by CQC for all services, risks creating confusion as to the prevalence, spread or impact of the virus at this time...'

Apparently, the public cannot be trusted with this information: 'CQC is aware of the potential that the data, once published, could be used in ways which could drive behaviour which is detrimental to the wellbeing of vulnerable people and to wider public health – for example, if some worried families seek to move loved ones from homes where there have been deaths to others where there have not and which are therefore - mistakenly - perceived to be safer.'

Most alarming, though, given the crisis, the CQC went on to say: 'We are also mindful that this may result in significant impact upon providers who are already facing serious financial pressures. Publication of the data is likely to cause further disruption to the sector with the result of reducing the overall availability and choice of care services. These commercial risks may act as a disincentive for providers to properly notify CQC that deaths are suspected to be COVID-19 related, and so to impact upon the completeness and accuracy of official statistics and the action CQC takes to address concerns and risks.'

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