NHS leaders have asked the Government to suspend a return to the Care Quality Commission’s (CQC) routine inspections until after winter so health services can focus on clearing the backlog of treatment.
In a letter to health secretary Matt Hancock, the NHS Confederation said services could ‘not afford for the old inspection regime to recommence until after winter’ due to the ongoing Covid-19 crisis, backlog of care, winter pressures, and staff burnout.
It added that the approach taken by the CQC during the pandemic ‘has enabled [providers] to focus on delivering care to patients and to work more efficiently, with less interference from national bodies and reduced requirements for meetings and paperwork that add little to patient care’ – and that this should continue for the time being.
The letter also said that the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and NHS England need to ensure that there are no further changes to ‘reporting instruction, performance measures and targets that increase the burden on health leaders and their teams’.
‘Legislative change is needed’
NHS Confederation commended the ‘vision’ set out by Mr Hancock in a speech he delivered at the Royal College of Physicians in July, where he pledged that the regulatory model would not ‘revert back to before’ and to ‘bust bureaucracy’.
However, it warned that ‘the inspection regime will not be recalibrated to this end without legislative change’.
The letter said: ‘The call from our members is not to abolish regulation. We recognise that safety is critical in healthcare, but regulation and performance management that is disproportionate, stifles innovation and provides false reassurance hinders not aids effective and safe services’.
The organisation added that the traditional approach to regulation has been the cause of ‘too much duplication in regulation and performance management’, and called for the regulatory approach to be ‘reset’ towards a system following the trajectory of the NHS Long Term Plan.
In the meantime, the CQC ‘should continue a programme of right touch working’ and routine inspections should continue to be suspended while the regulator develops its new approach, the NHS Confederation said.
Earlier this month, the CQC said it would be piloting a new approach to assessing and monitoring the performance of GP practices remotely, which avoids in-person visits ‘as far as possible’.
The regulator will also start its transitional regulatory approach from September, which does mean a return to some in-person visits, but not to the organisation’s pre Covid-19 approach in its entirety.