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Hunt announces plans for a chief inspector of primary care

GP practices face an added layer of regulation under plans announced by the health secretary for a ‘chief inspector of primary care’, in the wake of the Francis report into failings at Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust.

Jeremy Hunt announced today he is considering plans for a chief inspector to provide an ‘expert view’ of primary care to mirror the appointment of chief inspectors for hospitals, announced last week, to uphold standards and make the final call when a practice is failing.

Speaking at thinktank Reform’s conference today, Mr Hunt also said that a new ‘judgement’ factor could be introduced into CQC inspections so that the regulator is ‘not just measuring the dials’.

He said: ‘The debate over mid-Staffordshire and the setting up of a chief inspector in hospitals will lead to a debate about whether we should have a chief inspector of primary care or someone who will go round giving an expert view of primary care services.

‘I think it’s important to the public to have a sense to how well their money is being used.’

Mr Hunt said that CQC inspections should be overhauled in light of the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust reviewed by the Francis report, so that there are consequences to providing poor care.

Managers needed to feel their jobs were on the line if they provided sub-standard care, he said, and added that primary care could also benefit from such reforms: ‘I think that there are a number of other parts of the system that could benefit from improvements to the inspection regime and in particular the insertion of an element of judgement, not just measuring the dials. Primary care - yes.’

He also announced a pledge to reduce the bureaucracy in the NHS by a third, asking NHS Confederation’s chief executive Dr Mike Farrar to produce a preliminary report in March on how joint inspections and shared information can ‘improve clinical outcomes and free up more time to care’.

Mr Hunt said he wanted to reduce bureaucracy for ‘the GP who spends hours chasing information that should be readily available’.

These reforms would stop ‘the dead hand of micromanagement from crushing the good out of it’, he added.

Dr Richard Vautrey, a GPC negotiator, said the appointment of a chief inspector of primary care would bring little value to an overpopulated regulatory system.

He said: ‘It is questionable as to what the appointment of a chief inspector for primary care will achieve compared with huge numbers of people already inspecting - I think primary care is one of the most-inspected areas of the healthcare system that carries the least risk.’

He added: ‘We’ve heard it many times before but reducing bureaucracy is vitally important. There are too many bodies taking info on practices. Want to see that reduced and consolidated so the burden is lifted, freeing up GPs and other staff to care for patients.’