More than one in four providers of health and social care are failing to meet essential standards of quality and safety, the health watchdog warns today.
The Care Quality Commission said it had to take action to improve standards in 27 per cent of 14,000 locations it inspected.
In extreme cases, services had to be completely shut down, with maternity services identified as one area coming under severe pressure due to a rising birth rate, more complex births and inadequate midwife staffing.
The commission said 77 per cent of NHS services were providing the essential standards, compared with 72 per cent in adult social care and 82 per cent in independent healthcare.
Key problems found in snap inspections were the mismanagement of medicines, staffing numbers and record keeping.
In maternity care, it said there were regional disparities in services. It singled out problems at Dewsbury’s hospital, where it ordered immediate action to enhance staffing, and at the Jubilee birth centre at Castle Hill Hospital, near Hull, which has been closed due to midwife shortages.
Concerns were also raised about the deteriorating state of care homes in the last year. The watchdog’s director of operations, Amanda Sherlock, said: “While difficult to evidence, it’s likely that increasing failure to address these kind of problems is linked to increasing economic pressure within the system.”
The Royal College of Midwives’ deputy general secretary, Louise Silverton, said Ministers must act now.
“If they do not mothers, babies and their families are the ones who will suffer the consequences of this Government’s failure to ensure that maternity services have the resources to meet the demands facing them,” she said.
Health Minister Simon Burns said: “There is no excuse for delivering anything but the best care. By exposing poor practice and shining a light on best practice we are determined to drive up standards for everyone.”