CQC ‘not embracing sustainability’

The Sustainable Development Commission (SDC) has commended the Audit Commission and Ofsted but said the Care Quality Commission (CQC) “has significant ground to cover” in its role in creating a sustainable future.

Public services in the health, education and local authority sectors employ one in seven workers in the UK and spend £88bn on goods and services, giving them considerable purchasing power, the SDC pointed out, so they have an important role to play in encouraging sustainability.

The SDC’s review of public service regulators is found a mixed picture of how regulators are embedding sustainable thinking into their work. While the Audit Commission has made strong progress and Ofsted has made good strides towards embedding sustainable development into its work, the Care Quality Commission does not accept that sustainable development falls within its remit.

However, the SDC did recommend that the Audit Commission made sure basic level training was rolled out for all staff involved in audit and assessment work. Also, although Ofsted has developed a sustainable development action plan, the review said that it should monitor the impact of the completed ‘stimulus document’ on its inspection frameworks as these are developed or revised to make sure they go beyond a small number of questions or prompts on self-assessment forms. Ofsted should also champion the role of institutions in promoting the wellbeing of children in their local area.

As for the CQC, it had “failed to pursue a comprehensive sustainable development agenda” and it needed to carry out a special review in 2010 of how far and how well NHS trusts were promoting sustainable development. It should also create a board-level champion for sustainable development and work to build staff understanding of sustainable development and their capacity to integrate sustainability into all aspects of their work.

SDC commissioner Tess Gill said: “If public services operate in sustainable ways, they will be investing in the environment, social justice and the quality of life of their communities. If they fail to carry out their functions in a sustainable way, they will be contributing to environmental, social and economic problems both now and in the future. With regulators now taking on new responsibilities around the Comprehensive Area Agreement, the impact of their decisions is now more far-reaching than ever, making it all the more crucial that sustainability is at the heart of what they do.”

CQC chair Barbara Young agreed that sustainable development was critically important to the future health of people in England and that the NHS had a big role to play.

“As the regulator of health and adult social care, we’ve been given the critical task of driving up the quality of care on behalf of all people who use services,” she said. “We must remain firmly focussed on issues that impact directly on quality of care. Safety of services and ensuring people are treated with dignity are at the top of our priority list. If we are diverted from this crucial mission, there is a danger that the public will not see the improvements in quality of care that they expect and are entitled to.”

She went on: “We have cooperated fully with the Sustainable Development Commission throughout the review, however we believe it misunderstands our role. We are the regulator for the quality of health and social care, and do not have a regulatory role in many issues that the NHS is charged with delivering, such as sustainable development, unless there is central issue for the quality of care received by people. We will play a role, central to our purpose, in helping ensure good health and wellbeing which are key elements of sustainability. We are sorry to have to disappoint the Sustainable Development Commission, but we feel this is the right thing to do on behalf of service users.”