Amid the hubbub about the announcement of the coalition government’s plans – or lack of them – for social care last month, the Care Quality Commission’s announcement that it was scrapping its star ratings system for registered care services almost slipped under the radar – but it is an important decision and deserves more publicity than it has received so far.
But while the CQC is abandoning star ratings – 3 stars for an excellent service down to no stars for a poor one – it hasn’t got anything to replace it yet, and this has drawn criticism from some in the sector.
However, the passing of star ratings will not be much mourned. The system has been generally unpopular among care home operators ever since it was introduced 2 years ago by the then CSCI. Around the time it was introduced I was writing a lot about care homes, and to raise the subject of inspections – and the star rating the home received – to the manager often resulted in the sort of look that I’d get if I’d just sworn at them. Many objected to their rating and some were even prepared to go to court over it.
At the time, Frank Ursell, CEO of the Registered Nursing Home Association, voiced one of the major concerns – that a care home can receive a zero stars rating for being rated ‘poor’ in one of the three key areas involving safety and management, even if other areas are rated ‘excellent’.
The use of 3 stars, rather than the more common 5, was also queried as it was thought that it may confuse people trying to find care homes.
Getting rid of star ratings without having a replacement lined up has not gone down well either. Martin Green, chief executive of the English Community Care Association (ECCA) was unusually forthright on it:
“The CQC has told providers that it is interested in quality and yet… we have seen it bring forward the abolition of the star ratings system without a clearly defined timescale for its replacement,” he said. “The manner of this announcement, the lack of consultation, and the fact that CQC is not even adhering to its own published timescale gives us grave concern about its commitment to quality and its understanding and engagement with the social care sector.
“The CQC has been in existence for 13 months and it is becoming increasingly clear that it has little understanding of the social care sector, is administratively and bureaucratically shambolic, and lacks leadership and direction.”
Harsh stuff, but if the head of the ECCA is saying it, imagine what those on the ground are.
The CQC says it is in talks with stakeholders to “discuss how a new system may work”. This can be seen as the regulator working with the sector to find a solution that suits everyone, or that it hasn’t got a clue what to replace star ratings with, depending on your view of the CQC.
But quite what they will come up with remains to be seen. In theory, star ratings should have been great to give an at-a-glance view of the quality of a home/service, but with the previously mentioned wrinkles in the system, this was not always the case.
Whatever does come from this consultation, the hope is that any new system is easy to understand, fair and remains in place for some time, rather than chopping and changing every couple of years.
This decision is crucial for the CQC, not only in terms of helping service users, carers etc navigate the system and find the right care, but for the body’s own credibility, which is seemingly on the line as well.