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CQC says mergers partly to blame for GP practice ratings deteriorating



Exclusive GP practices merging is leading to lower CQC ratings, the regulator’s most senior inspector of primary care services has said.

In an interview with Pulse, Dr Rosie Benneyworth, CQC chief inspector of primary medical services, said the CQC was working with larger practices taking over struggling practices to understand the reasons behind the issues.

She said the process of combining two surgeries ‘can have an impact on the quality of care’ and that it was important to realise the difficulties in merging the working cultures of two different practices.

It comes at a time when NHS England are encouraging practices to form larger groupings.

Earlier this year the CQC reported 17% of practices rated ‘good’ last year had deteriorated to either ‘requires improvement’ or ‘inadequate’ in 2018/19.

Dr Benneyworth told Pulse the reason for the deterioration was down to several factors, such as practices merging, the increase in demand for practices or a change in leadership at a surgery.

She said: ‘We’re seeing “inadequate” and “requires improvement” practices improving but we are seeing some deterioration in the “good” and “outstanding” practices.

Dr Benneyworth said this was due to several factors including an increase in demand on practices – from patients and other parts of the health system

She said: ‘I think very often some of the changes we see in practices are due to change in leadership, so sometimes we find that the deterioration in the practice can be due to a change in practice manager, a change in GPs and the effect that that can have.

She added: ‘Sometimes we also see that there’s an interesting issue with some of the primary care at-scale providers. It’s really important that the practices who are merging or taking over other practices really understand the impact of that and the importance of continuing to focus on quality while going through that change so it doesn’t have any difficulties.

‘Of course, we are seeing some of the primary care at-scale providers take over the practices that are struggling, and we are working with some of the larger primary care at-scale providers to really understand that in more detail.

‘I think some people think, “Oh, just bring two practices together and it will all work,” and actually it’s [about understanding] that process [of] bringing two different cultures together – we can’t underestimate how difficult that sometimes can be, and the… impact on the quality of care that practice is able to deliver.’

Somerset GP Dr Benneyworth joined the CQC in March, following the departure of Professor Steve Field, who was the first chief inspector of general practice when he entered the post in October 2013.

In the CQC’s 2018/19 report it was revealed the regulator had increased the overall number of enforcement actions it took last year in an effort to ‘protect’ the public.

Its annual State of Care report, published this month, the CQC acknowledged that workforce and demand pressures had contributed to GP practices receiving lower ratings in the past year.