In the latest instalment of our care industry executive interview series, we sat down with Laura Hannah, Senior Associate Solicitor at Stephensons Solicitors LLP, to talk about her company, industry opportunities, challenges and successful cases…
Tell us about your company, products and services.
Stephensons Solicitors LLP is a leading UK full service law firm, providing expert legal advice and representation to individuals and businesses in the health and social care sector. Our specialist regulatory lawyers have extensive experience of advising care providers and managers in relation to CQC inspections; enforcement action; criminal investigations; inquests; safeguarding; and appeals to the first-tier tribunal (Care Standards Chamber).
We also have a team of specialist lawyers who provide advice and representation on a range of other legal matters including in relation to food safety and food hygiene; health and safety; employment law; disclosure and barring service; commercial contracts and disputes; property transactions; deprivation of liberty; and community care services.
What is your role at Stephensons?
I am a Senior Associate Solicitor within the Regulatory team at Stephensons Solicitors LLP. I have worked at the firm for ten years and specialise in health and social care regulation. I represent registered providers and managers in relation to proceedings before the Care Quality Commission (CQC); inquests; safeguarding investigations; food safety and food hygiene investigations and prosecutions; and professional disciplinary proceedings, before regulators such as the General Medical Council (GMC) and Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC).
Tell us about a recent successful case you have dealt with.
I recently represented a patient transport services company who had been accused of committing the offence of failing without delay to notify the CQC of specified incidents, as required under regulation 18 of the Care Quality Commission (Registration) Regulations 2009. The CQC alleged that there had been 17 allegations of abuse relating to service users during a nine month period and the CQC had not received a statutory notification in respect of these incidents. The CQC wrote to our client giving them the opportunity to submit written representations before they made a decision on whether to take any criminal enforcement action.
I submitted detailed representations to the CQC on their behalf, acknowledging the reasons why these notifications were not made and put forward substantial mitigation, including evidence of the actions that had been taken to ensure sustainable compliance in respect of its duty to notify moving forwards. Submissions were also made as to why it would not be proportionate to prosecute our client and why there would be no real public interest in pursuing any further action in all the circumstances.
After considering these representations, the CQC confirmed that they would not be taking any further action. A great result for our client!
What will be the biggest challenge that the Care industry has to face over the next 12 months?
In light of the recent news surrounding the Covid-19 Coronavirus, this will no doubt be the biggest challenge to the Care industry over the coming months and will most likely have a longer term impact on the industry as a whole for some time thereafter.
The CQC have recently taken the decision to suspend inspections where there are no immediate safety concerns, and this will hopefully take the pressure off care providers in the meantime to allow them to deal with the coronavirus pandemic. However, this will no doubt cause a number of different challenges to care providers moving forwards, particularly in relation to finances; staffing; and care provision.
What is one of the main legal trends you have seen in 2020?
In recent years, it has become apparent that the CQC have taken a more proactive approach to criminal enforcement action and there is no doubt that they are clamping down on regulatory breaches and particularly those who are carrying out regulated activities without the appropriate registration. The CQC’s annual report 2018 – 2019 was published in July 2019 and the statistics contained within this report clearly demonstrate the CQC’s increasing use of their enforcement powers over the past few years. The report confirms that the CQC took criminal enforcement action against 211 care providers in 2018/2019, which reflects a 32% increase from 2017/2018 and the CQC identify this as “a continuing trend over the last two years”.
We have also seen a significant increase in criminal enforcement action being taken against our clients and the CQC have increasingly published details about more prosecutions over the course of the past year. I therefore expect the CQC’s annual report for 2019 – 2020 will confirm the same again.
What is one of the most enjoyable things you have done in the Care sector in the past year?
This year I was invited to be a judge at the regional finals of the Great British Care Awards in Manchester, Birmingham and London and I interviewed numerous candidates for a variety of different awards including the Registered Manager Award and the Home Care Worker Award.
In February 2020, I was also invited back to judge to at the National Finals of the Great British Care Awards in Birmingham. I was blown away by the hard work, selflessness and dedication of all of the finalists to providing the best and most safe care possible to society’s most vulnerable. I’m looking forward to the awards ceremony and meeting more finalists later this year.