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CQC inspections to be reduced to help ease pressures in the NHS

by Beth Gault
13 January 2023

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The CQC will now only inspect GP practices where there is ‘risk of harm’ to people using services, under plans unveiled by the health secretary to tackle increased pressures in the NHS.

Speaking in Parliament earlier this week, Steve Barclay said the CQC had agreed to ‘reduce inspections and focus on high-risk providers’ as part of a plan to support the NHS during winter.

He also outlined more detail about his plans to speed up hospital discharges, including that the £200m investment in short-term care placements would be spent over the next three months and the additional £50m for hospital upgrades will focus on ‘modular units’ which will be ‘available in weeks’.

Mr Barclay said: ‘The third action we are taking to support the system right now is to free up frontline staff from being diverted by CQC inspections over the coming weeks, and the CQC have agreed to reduce inspections and focus on high-risk providers in other settings like mental health.’

In response to the announcement, the CQC said: ‘We will continue to respond to the most serious risks in NHS organisations. For GP services, we will only inspect where there is risk of harm to people using services. This means that some previously planned inspections will not now go ahead.

‘We recognise the pressures facing health and care services. We support providers to use their resources and time in the most productive way for people. However, we must still provide a way to raise serious concerns about the safety of patients.’

It added that the process would be similar to that during the height of the pandemic, and said that those working within the CQC with NHS experience would be similarly able to volunteer to return to front line services for a limited time to support providers.

Dr Kieran Sharrock, acting chair for the BMA’s England GP committee, said the BMA was glad the Government had ‘finally listened’ to take a ‘softer-touch, risk-based approach’ to CQC inspections.

‘Practices are experiencing their most difficult winter yet, and need urgent support, resourcing and time to care,’ he added.

New regulatory approach delayed

Meanwhile, the regulator has also delayed its new regulatory approach, which was supposed to start this month.

In December, the CQC said that following a review of its timeline, this would now happen later in 2023.

It said: ‘Our strategic ambition is clear and remains the same. We want to drive improvements across the health and care system, helping to tackle health inequalities. But we need to make sure that we’re able to do this as smoothly as possible, particularly as providers continue to experience persistent pressures.

‘This means taking time to work in partnership with our stakeholders. It also means being clear about what is changing, and importantly what is not, so providers can be clear about what they need to do at every step.’

Under the new timeline, the CQC will make sure all the technology they need is in place and that it can be tested with providers from spring 2023. By summer, the new online provider portal will be launched which will enable providers to submit statutory notification.

The assessments will then be carried out in the new way using the new framework by the end of 2023.

The regulator added: ‘We’ll provide regular updates and more detail during the year. We aim to help providers, integrated care systems, local authorities and other stakeholders to prepare for the changes. Before we make any major changes, we’re fully committed to giving providers plenty of notice to prepare fully and will be engaging with them throughout to ensure they feel they have the right information at the right time.’ 

CQC specialist adviser, Tracy Green, told Management in Practice that she was confident the delay would be ‘a welcome relief at such an ongoing demanding time’.

‘The revised portal will not be available until the summer, so I strongly recommend that a diary reminder is added prior to the summer holidays to evaluate progress and anticipated launch dates announced by the CQC,’ added Ms Green.

‘In terms of the announcements about the delays in resuming inspections for many, this again will be welcomed. However, I would also add a word of caution that any practice may be inspected if there is external intelligence that deems this appropriate, so let’s expect the unexpected!’