CQC inspections are to be reduced so that NHS staff can ‘focus on delivering for patients,’ the health secretary has announced.
Speaking in Parliament yesterday, Steve Barclay confirmed steps the Government is taking to ensure the NHS has the support it needs to tackle ‘increased pressures’.
Mr Barclay gave updates on the Government’s plans to provide up to £250m to speed up getting patients out of hospital.
He also said an additional £50m will be provided to build ‘modular units’ which trusts will be able to use for either short-stay spaces for those who may require care after a visit to A&E, but do not require a stay on a ward; the creation of ‘discharge lounges’; or the creation of ambulance hubs so vehicles can hand over patients more quickly.
Thirdly, he announced that the CQC has agreed to reduce inspections in key areas in order to free up NHS staff to focus on delivering care to patients.
Mr Barclay said: ‘Mr Speaker, the third action we are taking to support the system right now is to free up frontline staff from being diverted by CQC inspections over the coming weeks, and the CQC have agreed to reduce inspections and focus on high-risk providers in other settings like mental health.’
In response, a statement from CQC said: ‘We will continue to respond to the most serious risks in NHS organisations. For GP services, we will only inspect where there is risk of harm to people using services. This means that some previously planned inspections will not now go ahead.
‘We recognise the pressures facing health and care services. We support providers to use their resources and time in the most productive way for people. However, we must still provide a way to raise serious concerns about the safety of patients.’
Meanwhile, the health secretary’s statement to Parliament barely gave a mention to GPs.
Mr Barclay said: ‘Flu has made this winter particularly tough – first, because we’re facing the worst flu season for 10 years. The number of people in hospital with flu this time last year was 50 – this year, it was over 5,100.
‘Next, because it came early and came quickly, increasing seven-fold between November and December. It also came when GPs and primary and community care were at their most constrained.’
On primary care, the main message related to how pharmacists could help reduce pressures elsewhere in the NHS.
The health secretary said: ‘We are clear there are many more things our community pharmacists can support with, which will ease pressure on general practice, and from the end of March community pharmacies will take referrals from urgent and emergency care settings, and later this year we will also start offering oral contraceptive services.
‘But I want us to do even more and indeed as they do in Scotland, and we will work with community pharmacists to tackle barriers to offering more services, including how we better use digital services.
‘The primary care recovery plan will set out a range of additional services pharmacists can deliver.’
NHS Providers’ interim chief executive Saffron Cordery said the announcement of more funding was good news but ‘too little too late.’
She said: ‘It is right that more funding is being made available to free more NHS beds for patients who need them when rising pressure from flu, Covid and delayed discharges have put health and care services under immense strain.
‘As the health and social care secretary acknowledged today, this is an ‘extraordinarily difficult time’ for the whole health and care system.
‘But given the severe pressure the NHS has been under for many months, trust leaders will ask whether this announcement is too little too late to deal with what many warned last year would be the worst winter on record.
‘Leaders across the NHS will be seeking urgent clarification that the funding announced today is “new” money rather than being drawn from existing NHS budgets.
‘They will also want assurances that the £200m will be distributed immediately if it is to have a real impact on the current pressures facing the NHS.
‘It is vital that the delays so far in distributing the £500m adult social care discharge fund, when it was urgently needed on the frontline and could have made a real difference, are avoided this time.’
Last week, Pulse revealed that GPs have stopped trying to phone ambulances for seriously unwell patients amid ambulance delays – even advising those with chest pain to take the bus.
This winter has seen GPs reporting dealing with overwhelming number of patient contacts, with the pressures hitting practices as early as November.
ICBs have attempted to put in special measures to ease pressure on GPs but LMCs have told Pulse that they cannot go as far as they would like because of resistance from NHS England to suspending QOF.