The CQC has extended its pause on controversial GP access inspections, with ‘no set date’ for when they will resume.
It comes as CQC said in December that it was halting all unannounced GP inspections until the new year while GPs were focusing on the accelerated booster campaign.
An email sent by CQC on Friday 7 January confirmed that the pause would ‘remain our approach for the rest of January’.
But, asked by Pulse whether this means access inspections would recommence from February, a CQC spokesperson said access inspections ‘remain postponed and the approach is being kept under continual review’.
The spokesperson added: ‘We are remaining responsive to the situation and there is no set date for when they would restart, we will continue to update providers of any changes’.
Unannounced access inspections were introduced as part of NHS England plans for improving access to GP practices in October, enabling the CQC to work with NHS England to ‘make the required improvements across those practices which are not meeting people’s reasonable needs’.
It followed months of public and media backlash during the pandemic over the idea that GP practices were closed and GPs were not seeing patients face-to-face.
The access inspections focus around a series of statements relating to accessibility and will not result in any change in ratings for practices.
The CQC’s email explaining the ongoing pause of access inspections said: ‘We shared a previous update with you on the 21 December outlining our regulatory approach. Including postponing inspections of services that are delivering or supporting delivery of the booster programme, except where there is evidence of risk to life, or the immediate risk of serious harm to people.
‘This will remain our approach for the rest of January.’
This now means that all CQC GP practice inspections, both access focused and routine, are currently postponed with ‘no set date’ for when they will restart.
The CQC indefinitely paused the routine inspections of GP practices last month when GPs were asked to prioritise the booster campaign, and said ‘only risk-based assessments’ would be undertaken where ‘deemed critical to safety and quality’.
In its previous update on 21 December, CQC reaffirmed its postponing of inspections of services ‘delivering or supporting the delivery of the booster programme, except where there is evidence of risk to life, or the immediate risk of serious harm to people’.
CQC said the decision to extend the pause on access inspections, as well as routine ones, is ‘to ensure that our approach remains appropriate and proportionate’.
It said: ‘Our focus will always be on supporting services to ensure people receive safe care. But we also recognise we need to respond to the severe pressures under which many parts of the health and social care system are working.
‘We also recognise that the priority for all providers is to deliver safe, good quality care to people who use their services. We will support providers that are taking balanced, risk-based decisions in partnership with people who use health and social care to maintain access to services and keep them as safe as possible in response to system pressures.’
It comes as the CQC admitted its inspection and monitoring methodology ‘may inadvertently disadvantage’ ethnic minority-run GP practices, leading to ‘inequities’.