BMA leaders welcomed the move, saying GP practices and other providers with previously high ratings had earned a reprieve from CQC inspections to help them cope with winter pressures. They called on NHS England to take similar steps to ease pressure on GPs – reiterating calls for the suspension of QOF targets.
CQC inspections on good and outstanding practices will be suspended until the end of January, and the CQC said its ‘normal inspection schedule’ should resume the following month, dependent on review nearer the time.
Around 120 GP inspections are thought to be affected, which will be rescheduled for ‘as soon as possible’, the CQC said. Inspections arranged in response to concerns over quality or safety – and for practices rated 'requires improvement' or 'inadequate' – will continue as usual throughout January.
Announcing the decision to pause inspections, CQC chief executive Sir David Behan said: ‘As we highlighted in our State of Care report, the entire health and social care system is at full stretch – now an increase in respiratory illness and flu has further intensified this pressure.
‘To support the system as much as possible, we are rescheduling some routine inspections of services. This is to allow frontline staff and leaders to focus on continuing to ensure that people receive safe, high-quality care during this period of increased demand.'
GPC deputy chair Dr Mark Sanford-Wood said: ‘It is right that the CQC has taken the decision to suspend inspections for the vast majority of GP practices and other parts of the NHS that have a good or outstanding rating.
‘This process is extremely time consuming and places an additional burden on staff and resources, a situation that we can ill afford when large parts of the health service are under unprecedented pressure from rising demand and workforce shortages this winter.
‘However, while this is an encouraging move, it does demonstrate the extent of the strain on the NHS, despite some short-term initiatives lobbied for by the BMA to boost funding for GP practices over the Christmas period.
‘We do need NHS England to demonstrate similar understanding and work with the BMA to agree measures to remove performance targets and other system measurements in order to release clinicians for front line clinical care for the benefit of patients.’
The RCGP also backed the move. College chair Professor Helen Stokes Lampard said: 'This will be music to the ears of hard pressed GPs who are working flat out to care for patients in the face of winter pressures.
'Now more than ever, it is critical that GPs’ valuable time is spent where it is needed most - on the frontline of patient care.
'We thank the CQC for listening to the profession and taking today’s timely and sensible decision.'