A High Court judge has ruled in favour of NHS healthcare provider SSP Health after an 18-month dispute around the processes followed by The Care Quality Commission (CQC) to reach its ratings.

The judge agreed inaccurate CQC conclusions and ratings with consequent reputational damage to SSP Health.

The ruling is expected to have implications for how CQC assesses providers of NHS healthcare services prior to publication of ratings reports.

In November 2014 CQC inspected Seaforth Village Practice but, according to SSP Health, failed to gather full evidence.

Following an initial review, Dr Shikha Pitalia, GP and Director of SSP Health wrote a letter to Professor Steve Field, the CQC’s Chief Inspector of General Practice, raising a number of concerns about the manner in which the inspection was carried out and, crucially, urging for publication of the report to be delayed.

Unfortunately, CQC refused to delay the report findings to the detriment of SSP’s reputation in the area.  

SSP Health instigated litigation procedures in partnership with Accrington law-firm QualitySolicitors Acklam Bond against the CQC in late 2015.  Having heard the evidence, the Court, delivering critical judgment of the CQC, held that on at least four of the challenges made by SSP health, the CQC should have re-considered its position. That  refusal to delay publication of the report was was also criticised.

A further inspection in September 2015 concluded an overall rating of ‘Good’ in the subsequent CQC report published in October 2015 but this was deemed too late for the damage to SSP Health’s reputation.

Dr Shikha Pitalia, GP and director of SSP Health, stresses that “SSP Health has always supported the role of regulation of services. However, as one of the largest GP providers in the country, and the recipient of over 40 CQC inspections in the last 2 years, we are acutely aware of the inconsistencies between individual CQC inspection teams. We felt it imperative to challenge the subjective methods CQC inspectors adopt.”

The ruling, made on the 12th of August 2016 is a validation of SSP Health’s concerns and raises serious questions as to how quality control of the CQC’s own processes can be monitored and ensured.

Mrs Justice Andrews issued a declaration that the CQC should now in all cases carry out an independent review on the decisions made following an initial challenge to the CQC’s draft report. 

Denise Bond, Litigation Partner at QualitySolicitors Acklam Bond, comments ‘We are delighted that Mrs Justice Andrews has arrived at, what in our view, is a common sense judgment. SSP Health’s organisational reputation has suffered damage on the basis of what we believe to be an assessment process that was flawed from the outset.’

The Care Quality Commission was set up in 2008 as part of the development of the 2008 Heath and Social Care Act and is tasked with carrying out periodic reviews of the performance of regulated activities by all service providers.