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CQC has cleared the path for Government to invest in GP practices, says Steve Field

The CQC has proved to the Government that GP practices are ‘good’ enough to receive investment, the outgoing chief inspector of general practice has said.

Professor Steve Field, who is due to leave his position at CQC in March next year after five and a half years in the role, said former health secretary Jeremy Hunt asked him in 2013 to ‘shine a spotlight’ on the worst GP practices, and ensure they closed or improved, so the Government could go ahead and invest in ‘good’ general practice.

With the first round of practice inspections now complete, and with 96% of GP practices currently rated good or outstanding, Professor Field said the CQC had fulfilled that goal.

He told delegates at the Best Practice conference: ‘We have actually been able to prove what we said at the start, which is that English general practice is in a very good state.’

He added: ‘When I took this job the discussions I had with the then-secretary of state included, could we – as an independent regulator – make sure we improved the quality of care for our patients in England by shining a spotlight on the worst practices, and either making them improve, supporting them to improve, or not to continue practising if they couldn’t?

‘How could we encourage improvement of the majority, and could we demonstrate that general practice is as good as I said it was when I chaired the [RCGP], so that we could invest in primary care and in general practice.

‘And together with you, we’ve done that.’

He further claimed the CQC’s general practice inspection programme has ensured ‘millions’ of patients now receive better care.

The CQC’s annual State of Care report, published earlier this month, found that the overall safety of GP practices in England is improving, with 93% of practices now rated ‘good’ in the safety category.

And Professor Field said: ‘When we started on this journey we had 5% [of practices] which were inadequate. We now only have 1% that are inadequate. Therefore there are millions of patients in this country receiving better care than when we started.’

He added that ‘a lot of’ people were ‘opposing’ the inspections to start, ‘but actually we have proven to patients that general practice is good’.

Since then, he said, general practice has undergone a lot of change including many practices merging to work at scale.

‘We have a different set up now, which is worth investing in.’

But his comments come after an official evaluation of the CQC’s inspection process, published last month, concluded that it requires improvement. The review found that GP practices were among those least likely to improve as a result of the regulator’s current approach.

Professor Field, who took on the role as chief inspector of general practice in October 2013, has led on the inspection of all providers of primary care services, including out-of-hours, online providers and prison health care.