The Care Quality Commission (CQC) must find out why there has been a sharp decline in the number of whistleblowers raising concern about local health and care services.
That call has come from Public Accounts Committee (PAC) chair, Labour’s Meg Hillier, in a report by parliament’s spending watchdog on the CQC’s performance.
Ms Hillier said: “The recent decline in whistleblower numbers requires investigation; the commission must act to understand why this has happened and ensure people can feel confident coming forward with what is often critical information.”
She said the CQC had “improved significantly” since the PAC’s first report on it in 2012, but it should publish inspection reports more rapidly and monitor whether it had sufficient staff to examine providers’ whose performance might deteriorate under growing financial pressures.
Sir David Behan is due later this year to step down as CQC chief executive and his successor “will inherit a mixture of persistent weaknesses and looming challenges”, Ms Hillier said.
“These must be tackled amid commission funding cuts and continued financial pressure across the health and care sectors.
“Both are a potential threat to the commission’s ability to carry out its duties, which would in turn undermine the ability of patients and their families to make timely and informed choices about care”.
The PAC said some 20% of CQC re-inspections followed information from whistleblowers, health and other regulatory bodies and the public.
Its report said: “The commission’s relationships with local Healthwatch organisations are variable; there has been a recent decline in the number of whistleblowers providing information to the commission.”
The CQC should ensure whistleblowers “feel confident to contact the commission with any concerns they have” and “reduce the variation in relationships with local Healthwatch organisations”.
Sir David said: “I am delighted that the Public Accounts Committee has recognised the way CQC ‘has improved significantly’ since 2012.
“We acknowledge that there is more to be done and staff are actively working to deliver on the key recommendations, such as decreasing the time taken to publish our hospital inspection reports and the improvement of our digital monitoring systems.”
He said in addition to inspecting individual services it would be important that the CQC was able to continue its reviews of how local systems are working.