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GP leaders bid health secretary to stop non-essential CQC inspections during vaccine effort

by Costanza Pearce
30 November 2020

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The BMA’s GP Committee has written to health secretary Matt Hancock asking him to suspend ‘all but essential’ CQC inspections.

The letter comes after the regulator denied the BMA’s request to suspend inspections during the Covid-19 vaccination effort.

The CQC has also said that it may ‘separately’ inspect GP practices’ Covid vaccination sites that are not usually used to deliver services, such as sports venues.

At the start of the pandemic in March, the CQC announced it was pausing routine inspections.

But GP practices had been asked to welcome CQC inspectors again from 19 October, as the regulator set the start date for its ‘transitional’ regulatory approach based on ‘risk’.

Earlier in the summer, the CQC announced it was piloting a new model of checking up on practices ‘without crossing the threshold’.

In a letter sent to Mr Hancock last week, GPC chair Dr Richard Vautrey said it is ‘extremely disappointing’ that the CQC is continuing its ‘non-essential’ activities while GPs are tackling Covid-19.

The BMA had written to the CQC urging it to ‘immediately halt all non-essential inspections and practice monitoring to allow practices to focus’ on delivery of the Covid vaccination programme, he said.

However, the CQC confirmed in a recent response to the BMA that it is ‘continuing to undertake practice monitoring and will be telephoning / online calling practices to both gather and clarify information it holds’, Dr Vautrey added. 

He told Mr Hancock: ‘We have shown that we can be trusted to deliver for our patients when they need us most. 

‘With this in mind, given the massive challenges practices are now facing, we ask you to do all you can to remove all unnecessary regulatory attention and bureaucracy from general practice and take the necessary steps to suspend all but essential CQC inspections other than those required for significant safety issues.’

Dr Vautrey added: ‘By doing so you will reassure hard-working practices, enable them to prioritise the care of their patients and support practices to engage with the Covid vaccination programme.’

Practices ‘cannot have any additional distractions’ as they prepare to vaccinate the population against coronavirus, Dr Vautrey told Mr Hancock.

He said: ‘Due to the new additional requirement to prioritise the Covid vaccination programme, we need CQC to immediately halt all non-essential inspections and practice monitoring to allow practices to focus on the vital job at hand. 

‘For GPs and their practice teams to effectively play their part in delivering this major vaccination programme we need “all hands to the pump” and it is crucial all non-essential bureaucracy is reduced to a minimum.’

Meanwhile, CQC guidance updated last week said GP practices need to update their statement of purpose to tell the CQC if they are running an unregistered flu or Covid vaccination site as a ‘satellite’ of their practice.

The guidance also said the CQC ‘may inspect this location separately’.

If a group of practices are working together to deliver vaccinations at the novel site with shared responsibility, they should all update their statement of purpose.

Alternatively, they can nominate a lead practice to take responsibility and notify the CQC.

Such practices will be responsible for carrying out the regulated activity, the quality and safety of the service at the location and making sure the location is ‘equipped and maintained to the standard expected for patient healthcare’, the CQC said.

Practices delivering the vaccine from their own registered site and those working with others to deliver it at a location registered by another provider who is ‘responsible’ for the service do not need to notify the CQC or apply for approval.

In a newsletter to practices, the GPC said the ‘immediate’ suspension of all GP CQC inspections and reviews not required for serious safety issues should be ‘for the duration of the pandemic’.

CQC chief inspector of primary medical services and integrated care Rosie Benneyworth said: ‘We know that GPs and practice teams are under immense pressure, that is why we have suspended routine, frequency-based inspections.

‘It is also why we have worked with the sector to respond and adapt – finding ways to support providers while balancing our duty to provide public reassurance. The transitional regulatory approach has been developed to be flexible, builds on what we learned during the first wave of the pandemic, and importantly means that any inspection activity is more targeted and focused on where we have identified or people have shared concerns.’

She added: ‘We remain sensitive to the changing circumstances of providers, while making sure our regulatory role and core purpose to keep people safe are at the heart of every decision we make.’

The news comes as the Government announced the conclusion to its review of GP bureaucracy this week, including that appraisals could be reduced to a 30-minute exercise. 

In September, the BMA warned that GPs would not be able to cope with a second wave without another pause to routine CQC inspections and QOF reporting.

This story first appeared on our sister title, Pulse.