Pressure has been growing on the watchdog to call a halt to onerous inspection visits as practices face growing pressure from the COVID-19 outbreak.
Both the RCGP and the BMA wrote to the CQC at the end of last week asking it to suspend inspections - and GP leaders backed calls for suspension of inspections at a special conference of LMCs on 11 March.
The watchdog said as recently as 5 March that it planned to continue inspections, although this would be kept under review - but its stance has now shifted.
In a letter to healthcare providers on 16 March, the CQC said: 'We will be stopping inspections from Monday 16 March. It may be necessary to still use some of our inspection powers in a very small number of cases when we have clear reports of harm, such as allegations of abuse.
'However, inspections and provider information requests for health services will not be conducted during the period of the pandemic.'
The RCGP said on Twitter that it 'welcomed the move by the CQC to immediately suspend all routine inspections'.
We welcome the move by @CareQualityComm to immediately suspend all routine inspections, enabling GPs and their teams to dedicate their time to providing front line care #COVID_19uk #BackGP https://t.co/MAG1Zx38zs— RCGP (@rcgp) March 16, 2020
In his letter last week to CQC chief executive Ian Trenholm, BMA chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul highlighted 'severe concerns' with the regulator's response to the pandemic. Dr Nagpaul wrote: 'We believe that continuing any routine inspections in the midst of a pandemic would have a significant adverse impact on the health service.'
A letter from RCGP chair Professor Martin Marshall to Mr Trenholm said that halting GP inspections would be 'a proportional and reasonable step to take in the current climate'.
Dr Nagpaul added: 'Given the growing scale of the pandemic, the absolute priority for hospitals and GP practices will be emergency preparedness planning and coping with the likelihood of significant staff absences, including as a realist of self-isolation.
'We strongly believe it would be wholly wrong for overstretched healthcare staff to divert hard pressed time and resources to prepare for and accommodate inspections.'
Professor Marshall said that the NHS had reached the stage 'where consideration must now be given as to what general practice can feasibly stop doing as the coronavirus outbreak escalates'.
'It is important to recognise that GPs are working on the frontline of this epidemic and general practice is still the entry point for most patients accessing the health services,' Professor Marshall wrote.
'In addition to coping with an increased number of patients due to coronavirus, primary care continues to deliver business as usual services to 1m patients each day. It is inevitable that these pressures and patient numbers will grow further over the weeks and months as official advice changes and the situation develops.'
Dr Nagpaul also told the CQC that, after the worst of the COVID-19 outbreak has passed, the CQC needed to take account of the 'difficult recovery phase' all healthcare providers would go through before normal activity could resume in any future inspections.
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