Resetting the relationship between local and national government. Read our Local Government White Paper

Suffolk’s communications response to CQC pilot

Matt Woor was Suffolk County Council’s Communications Lead for Adult Social Care when they volunteered to be part of the Care Quality Commission (CQC) pilot.

View allAdult social care articles

The challenge

How to communicate a complex process like social care distilled into a single rating, how to engage staff in an assessment of their quality, and the difficulties if rating was not good.

The solution

In Suffolk, the Adult Social Care service created a dedicated project team to manage the work of inspection, and communications was part of it from the very beginning. This meant that as a comms lead, he was already hearing the areas where they thought we would do well, and the areas they knew there would be some challenges, as well as the process of creating the self-assessment. He created a plan for both internal comms and external comms, focusing on getting to the rating, regardless of what the outcome would be. This was part of the formation of a service-wide narrative, which can then be used to build public and internal comms around as the process develops. 

The CQC inspection will almost certainly come into conflict with other business as usual priorities.  In Suffolk, to help counter this, they created a very simple sub-brand based on existing public branding. Called simply "CQC Inspection 2023 - Quality at the heart of Care", the header, colours and design were used on all internal messaging to staff so that they could immediately identify it. Clear ground rules for using the brand might include that it is only to be used in relation to the CQC Inspection, ASC Comms lead will decide when and where it is used, it is only to be used for internal messaging with staff, and messaging with external stakeholders who will be interviewed by CQC. The branding can also be used in the design for the self-assessment document.

Suffolk also understood that talking to inspectors could be stressful for colleagues, but did not want to coach people in how to respond to questions as that might influence people’s answers which negates the point of seeking an honest and transparent inspection. Therefore, to help people feel more comfortable, Suffolk used internal communications to invite everyone across Adult Social Care to take part in team discussions about each of the four CQC inspection themes throughout the month preceding the assessment. This meant that everyone was talking about quality issues in their respective areas that were directly linked in some way to the themes of the inspection, so that anyone who was meeting the CQC during the onsite inspection, had already completed at least four good discussions about quality, and would be more comfortable when talking about them again formally with the CQC.

It is vital to create a strong stakeholder engagement plan to keep track of who the CQC wants to speak to. There are so many people that need to be spoken to, and keeping a track of who and when can be difficult. In Suffolk, SCC organised over 40 different meetings for over 160 people to meet with the CQC inspection team over a two-week period, which included staff, partners, politicians, and people with lived experience of Adult Social Care. Suffolk shared 50 cases with CQC who ended up speaking to six of them as part of the inspection. Suffolk therefore needed to ask CQC who they hadn’t spoken to, in order to ensure that the communications loop with those people was properly closed, and people weren’t left thinking they were going to get a call from CQC.

Focus on preparing for both a negative and positive outcome with your rating, as both will come with slightly different communications challenges. If your authority's rating is likely to be seen as a negative, then it is worth having press and media briefings arranged prior to the publication date, as that will likely be your only opportunity to explain what the ratings mean, what mitigations have been put in place, and ensure any positive points are captured. You will need communications to help staff understand what this rating and associated press coverage says about them. Prepare staff workshops, webinars, and other events to allow people to vent their disappointment as staff morale will take a hit. If the result is positive, you may struggle to get media coverage, and should activate your own channels. In Suffolk, they designed their own social media graphics, email signatures, virtual meeting backgrounds and internal display banners, used extensively from the day of publishing. The good rating should be mentioned in reactive statements and quotes to the press over the following months.

The impact

Suffolk County Council received a Good rating from the CQC, and the CQC reporting that overall feedback from people was positive in relation to the approach of front-line staff, and the care and support they provided.

Lessons learned

The inspection is a rare opportunity to bring an entire service together - it will galvanise the social care workforce in a large and important group task where everyone can play a part and add their own unique ideas and contribution. Regardless of the rating result, there will be plenty of key messages afterwards which can be used to help form the narrative of your Adult Social Care services for the future which is incredibly useful – especially when preparing for the next inspection.


Matt Woor, Communications Lead for Adult Social Care, [email protected]