The new measures could lead to ‘immediate on-site inspections’ for GP practices if the watchdog believes there is an increased risk of poor quality care.
In a statement published by CQC chief inspectors, the regulator said it would alter its activity to review the information it holds about GP practices and other primary care providers every month.
Where the regulator finds no evidence that it needs to re-assess the rating of a practice, it will publish a short statement on its website about the service.
But the watchdog has said it could conduct a physical inspection of practices following information checks if it has reason to believe that there is an increased risk of poor quality care.
Changes in how the CQC monitors primary care providers are currently being piloted, with the view to rolling out the new monitoring service from 13 July.
A CQC spokesperson has stressed that the information checks are not investigations – and that ‘the majority’ of practices will receive no additional contact from the regulator, besides an email confirming the check.
However, the planned changes come just one month after GPs backed measures to reduce workload pressures on practice teams, including to proposals to scrap CQC inspections.
In March last year the regulator suspended routine inspections of GP practices following the coronavirus outbreak. Inspections were restarted a year later under revised terms – targeting practices rated ‘inadequate’, ‘requires improvement’ or ‘good’ with breaches of regulation.
The statment explained that the CQC intended to move away from emergency measures. ‘We want to build on our learning over the last year to make changes in our ability to monitor services. We’ll use the pilot to help improve the process further before rolling out to all services.
‘We’ll carry out regular reviews that will help support our ability to monitor risk…We currently plan to carry out this review each month. This will enable our teams to target their resources where they are most needed.’
It added: ‘Inspectors’ judgment will still be at the heart of our approach to inspection, the improved access to information will allow inspection teams to act quickly using their judgement, supported by our quality assurance mechanisms, where other sources of information indicate greater levels of risk elsewhere.’
The watchdog added it would ‘carry out some sampling of services’ by conducting inspections to ensure its checks were ‘consistent and robust’. It recently published a strategy for improving the quality of patient care, including less emphasis on ‘a set schedule of inspections’.
As of 12 March this year the CQC had carried out 132 on-site inspections since the start of the first UK lockdown on 16 March 2020 – representing a huge reduction compared with the same period last year, when 1,646 inspections were conducted.
Last month, BMA chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul argued that CQC inspections that ‘divert time away from patient care’ and ‘instil fear’ among practice teams must be axed – and replaced with a proportionate and supportive model.