CQC health watchdog racked up £123,000 hotel bill while inspecting NHS organisations in Suffolk Essex and Norfolk
- Credit: Archant
The Government health watchdog’s “new style” inspections regime landed taxpayers with a six-figure hotel bill while checking on NHS organisations in the region, an investigation can reveal.
Questions have today been asked about whether the Care Quality Commission (CQC) represented value for money after it emerged teams visiting East Anglia during a nine-month period spent a total of £123,599 on accommodation, including five-night stays at four-star hotels.
In one visit, an inspection team of 88 racked up a £46,749 bill staying at the four-star Dunston Hall, near Norwich, while checking on the Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT).
The watchdog, whose budget is due to fall from £249million this financial year to £217m in 2019-20, said its new approach to inspections involves larger teams and longer visits to provide more detailed assessments, while insisting the hotels chosen were cost-effective.
But, Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients’ Association, said that while the CQC plays an important role in monitoring standards “they must ensure that they offer taxpayers the best-possible value for money and carry out their work as efficiently as possible”.
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The figures, obtained through a Freedom of Information request from this newspaper, show that 333 inspection team members spent a total of 1,361 nights in hotels between May 2014 and January 2015, while visiting hospitals in Ipswich, Colchester, Norwich, King’s Lynn and Chelmsford.
A separate inspection team of 67 also spent five nights at Dunston Hall in September 2014, incurring a £23,065 bill, while inspecting the Norfolk Community Health and Care NHS Trust.
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The four-star, Elizabethan-style hotel, built in 1859, is situated within 150 acres of parkland and boasts a PGA-rated golf course, as well as a spa and pool,
Its website states: “Whatever your reason for coming, expect to be treated like royalty from the very moment you arrive.”
The CQC said the hotel was “the most cost-effective option we could find to meet the requirements of our inspection team and the expenditure is in accordance with our procurement policy for accommodation”.
It also highlighted the 78 services run by the NSFT across both counties as an explanation of the high number of inspectors.
Jane Basham, a member of the Campaign to Save Mental Health Services in Suffolk and Norfolk, said the NSFT inspection was a “pivotal moment for staff, users and carers” and praised the CQC’s expertise.
“It was only the CQC that took the expressed concerns of those they spoke with seriously,” she said.
“We have to accept that there is a cost to effective independent scrutiny – the type delivered by the CCG.”
Other four-star hotels visited since the new inspection regime was introduced in 2014 include the Dukes Head in King’s Lynn, which claims to offer “a la carte dining of the finest quality”, and Novotel in Ipswich.
CQC guidelines prevent teams staying in five-star hotels or those where fees exceed £95 for bed and breakfast, rising to £145 in London. All other hotels visited during inspections were three-star, including the Holiday Inn in Colchester; Atlantic Hotel in Chelmsford and a Premier Inn, also in Chelmsford.
“We are committed to ensuring value for money,” a CQC spokesman said.
“CQC’s ‘new style’ inspections involve larger teams, including specialist inspectors, experts in the field, and members of the public who represent the views of people who use services.
“They last longer so that more time can be spent in observing the care that is being delivered, in speaking to both people who use services and health and social care professionals, and in feeding back initial findings to the providers so that improvements can be made quickly.
“This gives a much more in-depth and detailed assessment of the quality of care, which encourages learning and improvement and can help people make informed choices about their care.”
The CQC said its teams also used the hotels for their conference facilities to meet up and discuss findings post-inspection.
Not all of the region’s hospitals have yet been inspected under the new regime, such as West Suffolk.