CQC workforce data, obtained through a Freedom of Information request, reveals that the watchdog currently has 427 GP specialist advisers working for it, a reduction of almost 100 since March this year.
The number of lead inspectors – also essential for GP practice inspections – rose by 50 over the same time period, but the watchdog is still 10% short of its target levels.
Inspections are built around having a lead inspector and GP specialist adviser on every team, meaning that a lack of recruits can create a bottleneck in the CQC's capacity to inspect practices.
The CQC said the drop in GP specialist advisers was not detrimental to the inspection programme, as it still has sufficient numbers to get through inspections.
Practice inspection teams are made up of five people – a lead inspector employed by the CQC, a lay inspector and several specialist advisers, including at least one GP.
Map: CQC GP ratings
The CQC had 520 GP specialist advisers working in March, but ranks have since plummeted by almost 100 – an 18% drop – to 427, the most recent workforce figures show.
The CQC has never reached its ‘ideal’ target of filling 700 GP specialist adviser posts, with current numbers representing just 61% of this goal.
The watchdog aired fears last month that it could miss its 30 September deadline to inspect all GP practices due to a ‘significant shortfall’ in inspections against targets.
It has currently inspected just over a quarter of practices, 14 months into its 24-month schedule.
A CQC spokeswoman told GPonline at the time that recruitment had ‘been a challenge’, indicating that this had contributed to the watchdog falling further behind schedule.
GP rating deadline delay
CQC has already been forced to extend its deadline – originally 30 April – by six months to the current target. GPonline revealed in March that the key factor in this delay was recruitment of lead inspectors falling short, after the CQC managed to hire just 148 – when it required 222 to meet its ambitious targets.
The most recent figures, also obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, show that although it has now boosted numbers of lead inspectors by 52 to 200, it is still 10% down on this number.
The watchdog added that it is currently ‘actively recruiting’ to fill 18 vacancies to bring numbers up closer to target levels.
Meanwhile, GP practices face a seven-fold rise in CQC fees over the coming years as the watchdog moves to full recovery of its costs through provider fees.
A CQC spokeswoman said: ‘We have been successful in recruiting [lead] inspectors. We currently have 209 in post but some are still completing their period of induction and training and will be up and running in January. These additional inspectors will support us in completing this inspection cycle.’
Photo: JH Lancy