The Department of Health has rubber-stamped plans for CQC to start giving ratings to online providers of general practice.
The plans, which DH has consulted on since September, will see the growing numbers of digital GP providers – which are currently inspected but not given an overall rating – marked ‘outstanding’, ‘good’, ‘requires improvement’ or ‘inadequate’.
This will also apply to all independent community health services and independent doctors, the CQC said.
The CQC already rates NHS and independent hospitals, general practices and adult social care services on the same scale.
The changes come after recent CQC inspections found some online services were failing in their provision of safe care.
They form part of a new ‘exclusive’ approach to regulation that will see the CQC tasked with inspecting and rating all regulated health providers, barring a few ‘proposed exclusions’.
The CQC said this would give ‘clear, accessible and independent information’ to the public about healthcare services in England and that it would now begin consulting on its regulatory approach for the additional services.
CQC chief executive Sir David Behan said: ‘CQC already inspects and publishes reports for these additional services and so, the ability to award ratings to them will bring increased transparency for the public about the quality and safety of their healthcare.’
BMA GP Committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey told Pulse: ‘Getting good quality advice from health websites is one way to reduce the workload pressures on practices but access to poor quality information not only increases the risks to patients and but also increases the work for practices.
‘It’s therefore increasingly important that patients are given information about the quality of online services they might use.’
It comes as Push Doctor, a private provider of £25 GP video consultations, recently argued that CQC inspections of online providers are ‘unfair’.
The company made the claim following CQC’s admission that its inspections were ‘not as consistent’ as they should be.
Babylon, the online GP provider which recently hit the headlines when it rolled out its GP at Hand service to NHS patients across London, said it had been campaigning to receive the same ratings as other providers.
Associate medical director Dr Matthew Noble said; ‘As the leading provider of digital healthcare in the UK, we have long been campaigning for all clinical services to be rated on the same basis so the public can have systematic and comparable information.
‘It has been a long process to achieve this relatively simple outcome. In our own experience for instance, it was hard work to get CQC to state that Babylon’s recent inspection puts it in the top quartile of most favourable reports.
‘Moving forward, this parity in CQC’s inspection criteria is an important and progressive step by the regulator that will allow Britain to compete in the global race to provide ground-breaking digital health solutions to the world.’