Dr Rosie Benneyworth, the CQC’s chief inspector of primary medical services, said in a blog that the watchdog was working to develop a new way to monitor services and collect information from providers without having to physically visit premises.
The pilot, which will begin in September, aims to avoid in-person visits ‘as far as possible’, and will involve ‘digitally accessing clinical records for assessment’ where needed.
She said a small number of practices will be involved in the project, with the watchdog focusing on areas where there are potential risks to patients or existing breaches of regulation - and for practices currently in special measures.
Dr Benneyworth said: ‘The coronavirus pandemic has resulted in fundamental changes to the way that care is delivered, and we need to be more flexible and responsive in the way we regulate so we don’t stifle this innovation or add unnecessary burden to providers.
‘We will continue to inspect where there is risk to safety and people’s human rights and where there is evidence the quality of care needs to improve. We will also be working to develop how we monitor services and collect information from them without having to visit a provider.
‘We hope this approach will enable us to collect information from a provider in a more flexible and responsive way that is less disruptive and requires less input from providers.’
Dr Benneyworth stressed that practices who volunteered would not be subject to an inspection and it would not result in a rating. Practices will be given more information in ‘the next few weeks’.
The watchdog announced in June that it would restart routine inspections of GP services over summer and autumn - despite concerns from GP leaders. All routine CQC inspections were halted in March following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Both the BMA and RCGP have called for a major rethink on CQC inspections after the pandemic - pointing out that reduced regulation during the outbreak has made general practice 'doable' again.
The government has recently committed to reducing bureaucracy in general practice, using the pandemic as a springboard to change routines. During a conference health secretary Matt Hancock praised the CQC for the way it adapted its traditional inspection-based model of regulation.
Mr Hancock, said: ‘Now when we made all of these changes, the sky didn't fall in. On the contrary, the NHS was protected, patient safety was protected and crucially, frontline staff felt empowered.’