Last reviewed 8 October 2013

The Voluntary Organisations Disability Group (VODG) has argued that the Government’s current plans for a “fit and proper” test of directors on boards of health and care organisations serve “only to increase red-tape and regulatory burden — for no real benefit to the sector or the people it supports”. Christine Grey reports.

The Department of Health consultation Improving Corporate Accountability in Health and Social Care, which closed on 6 September 2013, set out plans for a new registration requirement covering the fitness of directors of NHS boards, and an improvement in the way existing sanctions are used to prosecute health and care providers for failings in the quality and safety of their service. These are part of a wider remit of changes to the way the Care Quality Commission (CQC) regulates health and social care providers.

VODG general secretary John Adams recently wrote in a blog on the VODG website that, while his group supports the principle of corporate accountability as an “end”, the “means” outlined in the consultation were flawed.

The VODG’s main concerns were that the Government’s policies would make it more difficult to recruit charity trustees, whilst offering little, if any, additional protection; give false assurances to the public about safety and quality of care; and add to the regulatory, administrative and cost burdens for service providers and the CQC.

The DH’s final report on Winterbourne View recognised that, although 11 former members of staff had been sentenced in connection with the abuse of patients, there were weaknesses in the “system of accountability” and leaders, and that the owner, Castlebeck, was “not fully held to account for poor-quality or for creating a culture where neglect and even abuse can happen”.

Care services minister Norman Lamb said the new plans would look to impose fines rather than prison terms following prosecutions. He told ITV’s Daybreak: “We’re not jailing but it would be unlimited fines and it will be for the awful cases. If you break the fundamental standards that you have to comply with as a provider of care, and you are responsible for that, there are consequences, and I think that’s what the public expect.”

He added: “There’s also a culture when awful things happen, there’s a cover up, people get paid off, they get gagged from talking about it. That has to end. These pay-offs have to end and people at the top of the organisation should be held to account.”

But John Adams has questioned whether there would have been any difference in outcome if the CQC had received Castlebeck’s assurances that its directors were “fit and proper” people to hold board positions, or whether any directors would have been disqualified or deemed to be unfit had they had the test. He concluded: “The problem, essentially, was that Castlebeck’s quality assurance processes, commissioners and CQC inspectors failed to identify the abuse.”