The CQC’s chief inspector of general practice has promised that upcoming unannounced inspections focusing on patient access will be ‘supportive’ to practices.
The CQC has been tasked with urgently developing new inspection methodology as part of the Government’s crackdown on GP practices which do not offer satisfactory levels of face-to-face appointments.
The NHS England’s rescue plan for general practice, announced last week, included proposals for the CQC to work with NHS England to ‘make the required improvements across those practices which are not meeting people’s reasonable needs’.
The plan said: ‘CQC is rapidly developing an inspection methodology with a particular focus on access to GP services. Wherever appropriate, it will make unannounced inspections.’
It is unclear what the new methodology will involve, what powers it will have, and whether the inspections will be random or targeting particular practices.
However, speaking on Thursday at a press briefing regarding the CQC’s annual State of Care report, chief inspector of primary medical services Dr Rosie Benneyworth explained that the inspections would be ‘focusing on’ where ‘we hear concerns’.
And she added: ‘‘We’re very keen to make sure that we support practices to identify areas that they need to focus on, and make sure that we can share that best practice and support practices to ensure that people get the right care in the right way at the right time.
‘We’ve seen some great examples across the country of where practices are working to look at how they manage access and how they really meet demands, but we have also heard, in some places, concerns around access for people and we need to make sure that people have the appropriate access to meet their needs across all parts of general practice.
‘We have been following up on concerns that we’ve been hearing about access and we will continue to do that.’
The annual state of care report showed GP practices have continued to rate highly in CQC inspections.
As of 31 July 2021, 90% of GP practices were rated as good and 5% as outstanding, a marginal increase from 31 March 2020, when 89% of GP practices were rated as good and 5% as outstanding.
But chief executive Ian Trenholm said the CQC has received record numbers of feedback and concerns about care this year.
He said: ‘As we go into winter, the health and care workforce are exhausted and depleted – which has clear implications for the vital care they deliver.’
He warned further instability on funding and workforce for social care ‘could result in a ripple effect across the wider health and care system which risks becoming a tsunami of unmet need across all sectors, with increasing numbers of people unable to access care.’
It comes as the CQC said it has stopped using QOF data to assess practices for ‘at least’ 12 months, because it is ‘not reliable’ and ‘many months out of date’.
In June, NHS England said it has ‘no plans’ to suspend QOF or income-protect it for GP practices this year.
The BMA said it was ‘seriously concerned’ about CQC’s remote monthly GP practice safety reviews that launched in July.
In June, a draft document revealed that the regulator planned to start carrying out remote checks on each GP practice every month to assess its risk to patients in July.
Meanwhile, the CQC has recently faced criticism from some GPs who perceived inspectors’ behaviour as inappropriate.
Last month, a small survey found that more than 70% of GPs from minority ethnic backgrounds described ‘CQC inspections and the behaviour of the CQC inspection team has been a traumatic experience, rather than a positive and constructive experience’.