Exclusive: CQC delays GP ratings deadline amid shortage of inspectors

The CQC has extended its deadline for inspecting and rating all GP practices by six months because it does not have the staff to hit its original April 2016 target, the watchdog's chief executive has admitted.

David Behan: ratings deadline pushed back
David Behan: ratings deadline pushed back

The CQC has now pledged to visit, inspect and rate all practices by 30 September 2016, a six-month extension from its previous plans to get this completed by the end of March.

The extension means the CQC will now have two years overall from when the scheme was launched in October 2014 to inspect the 8,000 practices in England.

Its chief executive David Behan told GP there were a ‘number of reasons’ for pushing the date back, but a key limiting factor was that it had failed to recruit sufficient lead inspectors to meet the April target, which would have required the CQC to get through over 100 inspections a week.

A third short of inspectors

Practice inspection teams are made up of five people - a lead inspector employed by the CQC, a lay inspector and specialist advisors – including at least one GP.

But to date the CQC has only managed to recruit 148 lead inspectors, when it required 222 to meet its ambitious targets, meaning it is 74 (33%) short.

GP has previously revealed that the watchdog is also 25% short on the number of specialist GP advisors it ‘ideally wanted’ to fill its inspection teams.

Recruiting more inspectors is now a priority over the next few months to allow the watchdog to step up the number of inspections it gets through to meet its relaxed target.

Inspections go deeper

Mr Behan added that the inspections themselves have also taken up more time than initially thought.

He told GP: ‘Our new inspection methodology does get under the skin of organisations much more effectively than previous methodologies, and as a result of that they take longer. And we have to undertake more enforcement action as well.’

As of 23 February, almost five months after the scheme was rolled out, the CQC had inspected over 1,000 GP practices. It has currently released ratings for 435 practices.

Mr Behan said: ‘We’ll complete all of the ratings and inspections for general practice by 30 September 2016. That is a change from what we published in our business plan last year where we set out the previous dates.

‘The key issue here is the quality of the inspections. I don’t regard this [delay] as a significant issue, what is important is that the inspections we do undertake are of a high standard and that members of the public and professionals can trust in the inspections and judgments that we make. And that’s more important than completing the programme by a given time.’

Business plan set out

GP revealed last month that the CQC was considering extending its deadline, based on comments from its deputy chief inspector for primary care Dr Janet Williamson.

The extension was formally announced in a CQC board meeting on Wednesday, in which the regulator outlined its business plan and priorities for the coming financial year (2015/16) along with the amended inspection timetable.

The CQC have set four priorities as part of the plan, which include: continuing to roll out changes to inspection methodology; how it will respond to new and developing models of care; building an effective CQC workforce; and how can it demonstrate the difference it makes. 

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