The number of care homes penalised by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) for failing to provide adequate care fell to a five year low of 1,854 in 2018-19, a survey by law firm EMW has found.
This was almost half the level imposed by the CQC in 2014-15, it said.
EMW said the fall was not solely due to better standards but may also have resulted from the CQC being reluctant to impose penalties on a sector that is struggling financially, of which Four Seasons entering administration in April was an example.
There was also a fall in the number of homes inspected by the CQC, from 9,610 in 2014-15 to 7,620 in 2018-19, a period in which the CQC’s budget fell by almost £250m to £223m.
EMW principal Joe Soul said that while imposing excessive fines on a care home could cause problems for its residents if it was forced to close, “the CQC must also be mindful of the capacity in the sector for a significant group closing either as a result of insolvency or CQC pressures”.
Mr Soul said parts of the sector were in “a fragile financial state as local authorities have cut their payments”, while labour costs increased through the rising minimum wage and Brexit-related staff shortages.
He added: “The data would suggest that the CQC is struggling to maintain high standards whilst not overregulating and adding further financial strain on capacity in the sector.
“Such is the level of financial stress in the sector the CQC is trying to be pragmatic in terms of what improvement notices it issues.”
He said budgetary constraints may have affected the number of inspections the regulator could make and its capacity for regulatory action.
Penalties issued by the CQC against care homes: