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CQC’s risk assessment of GP practices will ‘demoralise an already shattered profession’, says Burnham

Exclusive The CQC’s publication of GP practices’ pre-inspection risk assessments risks ‘demoralising an already shattered profession’, shadow health secretary Andy Burnham has told Pulse.

Mr Burnham said he supported the principle of more transparency, but said that the CQC should have consulted with the profession before publishing the data yesterday, which categorised one in six practices as being at risk of providing poor care, based on data from QOF scores and the patient survey.

However, the CQC has defended its publication of practices’ risk assessment, saying that people ‘shouldn’t jump to conclusions based on indicators’.

GP leaders have denounced the decision to measure on ‘simplistic’ indicators and said placing them in the public domain creates more ‘sticks to beat GPs with’ before they’ve even been through an inspection.

The assessments are being used to prioritise when practices are inspected, but they have also been published on the CQC website and practices considered risky will have a red flag against them on NHS Choices.

Speaking to Pulse at the Commissioning Live conference in Manchester, Mr Burnham strongly criticised the regulator’s decision to put these in the public domain as it did.

He said: ‘It should have been done with more support from the profession. I’m not opposing the principle of what has been done, it is the way it has been done.’

He added: ‘To put information out about services without alarming the public, I think you have to have real solid evidence which is worked through with the profession. And I think because parts of the profession have felt unable to support this it ends up confusing the public. It was meant to help the public, and they’ve gone about it in the wrong way.

‘I can understand why this has caused alarm amongst GPs and members of the public. I think that’s why I say it needed to be done after an agreed set of criteria, then a process of inspection that people had signed up to. It’s not going to help bring stability to the system if we’ve got patients leaving practices and going to other practices.

‘I’m not against the transparency, and I doubt the profession is either – but it important to get it right and the Government has gone off too early on this. The worry is that it could demoralise further an already shattered profession.’

Sue McMillan, deputy chief inspector of primary care, told delegates at the conference that the risk assessments are indicators, and the CQC ‘never said we will use it in any other way’.

But Ms McMillan said the information was not being used the way it should be.

She said: ‘I feel sometimes it is used wrongly. I don’t like people jumping to conclusions based on indicators – they are indicators, nothing more, and we have never said we will use it in any other way.’

However, Ms McMillan said that publishing data was part of the ‘culture’ of being open.

She said: ‘I also think it is in keeping with that culture of being open about the information we are using and how we are using it and personally I think that is the more important thing.

‘It is our duty as a regulator to be very open about the information we use. We have used the words intelligent monitoring for quite a long time, and we have been saying to practices and the public that we use nationally available data to do our intelligent monitoring.

‘There are risks in publishing it because people will use it wrongly, but I think it is important to be open.’