Health inspectors’ £50,000 bill at St Albans four-star hotel

Mercure St Albans Noke Hotel

Mercure St Albans Noke Hotel - Credit: Archant

A St Albans hotel has had a £50,000 boost after hosting members of the government’s health watchdog, who spent up large on accommodation while checking local NHS organisations, an investigation has revealed.

Taxpayers have paid for Care Quality Commission (CQC) inspection teams to stay at the likes of the four-star rated Mercure Noke Hotel in Watford Road.

A response to a Freedom of Information (FoI) request by Archant’s investigative reporting unit shows that during a nine-month period, CQC teams spent a total of £95,209 on accommodation in Herts, including five-night stays at four-star hotels.

In one visit alone, an inspection team of 83 racked up a £50,880 bill staying at the Mercure Noke, while checking the Hertfordshire Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust.

Its September 2015 report on the trust, which has its headquarters in Waverley Road in St Albans, gave it an overall rating of ‘good’ with safety improvements required, including staffing levels at inpatient wards.

Figures obtained through the FoI request show that 172 inspection team members spent a total of 829 nights in hotels in the county, at an average cost of £115 per person per night, between May 2014 and January 2015, while visiting hospitals and NHS trusts.

Questions have been raised as a result of these findings with Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients’ Association, saying that while the CQC plays an important role in monitoring standards “they must ensure they offer taxpayers the best possible value for money and carry out their work as efficiently as possible”.

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However, a spokesman for the health watchdog defended the hotel bill, saying that the CQC’s ‘new style’ inspections involve larger teams than in previous years.

The so-called new style checks allow inspectors to try to “get under the skin of an organisation” to give more detailed pictures - according to the watchdog’s website - by using larger and more specialist teams to rate hospitals, community health and mental health services in England.

The spokesman said that CQC teams’ visits to areas such as St Albans “last longer so that more time can be spent in observing the care being delivered, in speaking to people who use services and health and social care professionals, and in feeding back initial findings to the providers so that improvements can be made quickly.

“This gives a much more in-depth and detailed assessment of the quality of care, which encourages learning and improvement and can help people make informed choices about their care.”

Teams also used hotels for their conference facilities to meet up and discuss findings post-inspection.

The watchdog’s budget is due to fall from £249 million this financial year to £217m in 2019-20.

CQC guidelines show teams are barred from staying in five-star hotels or those where fees exceed £95 for bed and breakfast, rising to £145 in London.

• £28,819 was spent at the Hilton Hotel in Watford, £13,703 at the Ramada Hotel in Hatfield and £1,807 at the Best Western Claydon Country House Hotel in Ipswich.