As some of you know, my lovely daughter is a pastry chef in an upmarket restaurant-cum-hotel. Yesterday, environmental health officers sprang a surprise inspection on their kitchen.
Bear in mind that this is a restaurant that aspires to a Michelin star. The inspector asked the chef to explain precisely how he knew the meat was cooked enough to be safe. She was unwilling to accept his experience and skill, and wanted him to be able to prove that he had checked the temperature of the meat (which for her requirements would have been far too high for most fine food dining). The refrigerators in the kitchen all have thermometers, and a log book is maintained of readings every morning – the first person in the kitchen checks the temperatures, but they are often put in the log later in the day when time allows, as morning is dominated by getting breakfast ready. Apparently, this delay was not good enough. Nor, apparently, was a sign above the sink used for rinsing vegetables and salad that read ‘Now wash your hands’ – the inspector was concerned that it did not make it clear that people are meant to use a different sink to wash their hands.
As my daughter told me these anecdotes (and several others), you will understand that my thoughts turned to CQC inspections, which are generally marked by a similar gulf between those who inspect and those who are being inspected. Next week, I am meeting officials from CQC about concerns raised by my GPs in Oxfordshire, and their preliminary responses to our concerns show a lack of understanding of just how absurd some of the questions are. The meeting is unlikely to end with universal understanding and enlightenment.
What have we done, to allow such a state of affairs to arise? It seems to me that there is widespread distrust of professionals in all walks of life, resulting in inspection regimes by organisations and individuals who are frankly too ill-informed to understand what they are inspecting. Anyone working in a professional kitchen has already passed suitable health-and-safety regulatory standards to make many of yesterday’s questions irrelevant, but the inspector either didn’t know this or insisted on measuring things that had already been measured. Similarly, CQC inspectors ignore the fact that our GMC regulations already require us not to discriminate, to follow professional standards, etc.
To an extent, all professions have been let down by individuals who have fallen short of the standards that they should reach. But the solution surely isn’t to create another tier of inspection and regulation. Far better to get the existing regulations upheld appropriately. Instead, we have allowed – and in many cases colluded with – the creation of new quangos that ultimately will fail to achieve anything other than their own self-perpetuation.
I am always reminded of the old cliche – what matters is rarely measurable, while what is measurable rarely matters.