April 8, 2019 Legal

Factual accuracy update: CQC rows back from imposing a 50 word limit on factual accuracy checks

We recently reporrted that CQC were about to impose a severely restricted word limit on the factual accuracy process. They had not previously announced this change publicly but had posted a new factual accuracy form on line. They admitted (when asked) that they were about to impose the word limit.

For more background, please see my recent article in Healthcare Business.
The proposed word limit had not been explained in CQC’s new factual accuracy guidance published in January. However, it would have meant that providers would be forced to conduct “factual accuracy by Twitter”. Each proposed correction to a draft report would have to be made in 325 characters or less (which is approximately 50 words, just a bit longer than the average tweet). This was clearly going to impose severe restrictions on providers’ ability to state their case, denying them appropriate access to justice.
On 5 April 2019, CQC quietly posted a further revised version of the “Factual Accuracy Check” form on its website. The new form, which can be found here appears to do away with their previous plans to impose a 325-character limit on factual accuracy arguments.
This about face followed quickly on the heels of widespread objections from care associations and care providers to the impending word limit. Without any further announcements, CQC have now published the new Factual Accuracy Check form with a 150-word limit per point of challenge (rather than a 50-word limit). Possibly the more critical point is that the newly revised version of the Factual Accuracy Check form includes the following proviso: “if you can not make your point using one row, continue in the one below”. We interpret this to mean that there is effectively no real character or word limit being imposed on the factual accuracy process. So, just as quietly as CQC imposed the 50-word limit, they now appear to be allowing it to fade into the background.
If I have understood this correctly, then I applaud this common sense change of heart by the regulator. Inaccurate inspection reports benefit no one. If inspectors get something wrong in a draft inspection report, they should be willing to discuss it and make a correction. While CQC may suffer from a lack of inspectors and resources, there is no acceptable reason to depart from the requirement to treat providers and services fairly when inspecting them. This is particularly important when you consider the fact that providers are paying significant fees to CQC to inspect and regulate them. One would expect, at the very least, to get a fair shake for one’s money.
Oddly, we may now be left with a Factual Accuracy Check form that is disjointed and difficult to follow. Providers will potentially have to use a number of rows in the form to clarify one issue. The result is a process designed more by accident than with ease of use or readability in mind. However, I would rather live with a wonky form than a draconian word limit. The proposed limit would have severely hampered providers’ access to justice for the sake of bureaucratic convenience. That prospect did not sit at all well with me.

Author: Mei-Ling Huang, Partner at Royds Withy King – pictured above

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