Care home regulation in Northern Ireland under the spotlight

Northern Ireland’s care regulator, the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA), has written to to highlight the qualities of the procedures and practices the organisation follows when regulating care provision, after it was heavily criticised last week by a former carer.

The RQIA had been accused of having poor communication with staff, by an employee of Owenvale Court residential home in Belfast, who complained to the BBC that he was unable to raise concerns during unannounced inspections. However a spokesperson for the regulator defended its approach:

“RQIA’s approach to inspection is underpinned by principles of good regulation first developed by the Better Regulation Commission, and the Hampton Principles. In practical terms this means that in our approach we have a focus on encouraging improvement of services. All services are risk-assessed and reviewed on an ongoing basis to ensure that our programme of regulation is tailored and proportionate. We also ensure that our efforts are focused on those providers who place service users at risk of harm, that they are identified quickly and face proportionate and meaningful sanctions.”

The spokesperson described a proactive approach that looks out for developing sector ‘themes’: “Our programme is based around a specific range of agreed standards and themes. These themes are identified annually, and can be informed by our experience of regulating within the sector in the previous twelve months. All services are required to return a self-assessment of their compliance with regulation and standards annually and are also required to provide an annual return on issues such as complaints management.”

The RQIA defends its inspection record as being flexible towards all parties involved, with care homes subject to a minimum of two inspections per year that are tailored towards the safeguarding of service users: “During each inspection RQIA speaks with staff, residents, relatives, visiting professionals as well as management of the service to gain an accurate insight into the quality of each service. Where RQIA identifies concerns in relation to a service -whether through its regulatory activity or other intelligence such as complaints or whistle-blowing, RQIA will promptly assess this information and may carry out additional unannounced inspections.”

On the specific issue of Owenvale Court Residential Home the regulator confirms that a ‘failure to comply’ notice was issued in February, due to concerns that were raised by a whistle-blower. The RQIA have since suspended new admissions to the home and are currently working with the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust in order to find a new provider to run the service, having cancelled the registration of the St John of God Association in April and with safeguarding issues currently under investigation.