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CQC risks becoming ‘a postbox’ for GP applications, say MPs

The CQC risks becoming little more than a ‘postbox’ for GP applications, and should tighten its inspection processes before April 2013 to ensure it is robust enough to ensure public confidence, MPs have declared. 

The recommendations come in a new report from the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, released today, in which MPs say they remain ‘farfrom convinced’ that the CQC is up to the challenge of registering and assessing every GP practice in England from next April.

The regulator has recently moved to simplify its processes after concerns of the bureaucratic burden it would place on practices.

But the committee urged the regulator to draw up new guidance to make assessments ‘meaningful’, and raised particular concern at plans for GP practices to self-certify their compliance with the standards set by the CQC.

The report comes after the regulator recently suggested as many as 10% of GP practices could be inspected in person from April 2013 because they are at ‘significant risk of non-compliance’.

The report says: ‘We are concerned the Commission will simply be a ‘postbox’ for self-certified applications and that the process will not be sufficiently robust to give the public meaningful assurance that registered GP practices are meeting the essential standards.’

‘The Commission should review and set out how it will make sure that the assessment of GP practices is meaningful. It should develop clear criteria to use to judge when it needs to undertake further investigations before a practice can be registered.’

The critical report comes after a tumultuous few months for the regulator. CQC chief executive Cynthia Bower resigned last month after the Government published a wide-ranging review that was critical of the regulator’s work.

Guidance issued by the CQC last month said GPs should start gathering evidence of compliance now ahead of the deadline for registration with the regulator in April 2013, and be prepared to set-up an online registration account by July 2012 to provide basic information to the CQC.

A CQC spokesperson said: ‘We are disappointed that the PAC report, based on last year’s NAO report, does not recognise the significant improvements of recent months.

‘GPs will be subject to the same risk-based model of compliance monitoring and inspections as the rest of the NHS and social care – and will be expected to meet the same essential standards of quality and safety.’

‘CQC will be reviewing every registration application in conjunction with information from other sources including the GMC, Criminal Records Bureau checks and whistleblowers.  If we have concerns, we will visit the practice and conduct an interview – as we have already done with out-of-hours providers.’

NHS Confederation deputy chief executive David Stout said: ‘As the committee suggests, a clear action plan is needed to change how the CQC works rather than a year zero approach and more organisational upheaval. The CQC and the NHS needs some stability to give the regulator a fair chance of success.’

Anna Dixon, director of Policy at The King’s Fund said: ‘The Commission had a troubled beginning, exacerbated by a lack of clarity about its role and a failure to provide the resources needed for it to meet the enormous and complex task it was given. Politicians must bear some of the responsibility for this – it is no good preaching the virtues of light touch regulation, and then blaming the regulator for not taking a more interventionist approach when problems emerge.’