The CQC has announced that routine inspections of GP practices will resume in the coming months, but the decision has not been universally welcomed, with NHS Confederation warning the sector needs this like a ‘hole in the head’.
The regulatory body yesterday said it is currently scheduling inspections of higher-risk GP practices to take place over the summer, while inspections at low-risk practices will recommence in autumn.
The CQC stopped routine inspections on 16 March, as the Covid-19 crisis was worsening.
It said the decision now comes as it has experienced an increase in calls from staff voicing concerns about care during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Of these, 32% included fears about how infection control or social distancing was being practiced at the service they worked in, while 4% referred to quality of care being impacted by the virus.
Chief inspector of adult social care Kate Terroni said: ‘It’s in everyone’s interests that staff are able to speak up freely and are not prevented from raising their concerns about quality and safety – and all providers have a responsibility to support their staff to share concerns safely without fear of reprisal.’
‘Staff have been going to extraordinary lengths to deliver good, safe care during this global crisis – if they are experiencing barriers to the delivery of that care, we want to hear from them.’
Responding to the CQC’s announcement, NHS Confederation chief executive Niall Dickson said: ‘The absence of routine inspections over the last three months has created a period of respite as staff have struggled to beat this virus. That battle is not over.’
‘Bigger challenges remain’, including dealing with a backlog of care, continuing to treat coronavirus cases and preparing for another potential surge – ‘and all of this with concerns over staff burnout’.
He added that while ‘health leaders recognise the important role of regulation…we first need to learn the lessons of this period before jumping back into the old inspection regime’.
This is an ‘opportunity to reset the way that we think about inspection, regulation and governance’, he said.
Since pausing routine inspections in March, the CQC has been carrying out a system of ‘remote’ monitoring, which has seen it only focusing on GP practices where they had been alerted to risk.
According to the CQC, this has led to three inspections within primary medical services, each of which was prompted by concerns raised by staff or members of the public.
Since last month, the CQC has been checking in over the phone with GP practices in England, under its ’emergency support framework’ (ESF).
The CQC said in a statement: ‘As the situation evolves and the impact on the health and social care system changes, we’ll be adapting the ESF tool to be used alongside our responsive visits and a managed return to routine inspection of lower risk services in the autumn.
Inspectors are now scheduling inspections of higher risk services to take place over the summer.’
It comes as GP leaders have warned against reintroduction of bureaucracy in general practice to pre-pandemic levels.
RCGP chair Professor Martin Marshall celebrated the ‘dramatic reduction in administrative tasks’ that had not been seen for up to a decade prior, and argued that regulation had ‘become disproportionate’.
And, last week, the BMA’s GP Committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey warned that the Government must ‘reflect very carefully’ before reintroducing GP bureaucracy.
This came as the BMA’s latest tracker survey found over half of GPs feel relieved by the temporary easing of bureaucracy during the pandemic.