Earlier this month the BMA called on the regulator to stop non-essential inspections and practice monitoring after the government announced plans to make practices a key part of its national COVID-19 vaccination programme.
The BMA warned that the delivery of a COVID vaccine would be a 'huge undertaking' for practices 'already struggling to cope with the impact of the pandemic' - arguing that they should be allowed to 'focus on the job at hand'.
But guidance published by the CQC makes clear that practices could face visits from inspectors at sites being used to deliver flu and COVID-19 vaccination programmes.
Sites such as such as sports or community venues could be inspected 'separately' if they have not previously been used by a CQC-registered provider - while sites already linked to a provider could be visited as 'part of any inspection of your main practice'.
The CQC told GPonline that there is 'no specific programme of work’ to check vaccination sites - but under the transitional approach adopted by the regulator this autumn practices can face inspection in response to information of concern - or after a monitoring call to a provider.
The CQC website says that after 'reviewing information that we have about your service, we will have a conversation with you either online or by telephone'. These calls can last 'an hour or two' and can lead to an inspection.
BMA GP committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey said the CQC should stop all non-essential inspections to allow practices to ‘focus us on the vital job at hand'. He said: ‘During what will be an unprecedented major vaccination programme, GP practices will need “all hands to the pump” and it is crucial all non-essential bureaucracy, at this time is reduced to a minimum.
‘At the outset of the pandemic in March, 94% of general practices were judged by the CQC as being good or outstanding. We have shown that we can be trusted to deliver for our patients when they need us most. It now makes sense to remove all unnecessary regulatory attention and bureaucracy from general practice and suspend all but essential CQC inspections other than those required for safety issues.'
Dr Vautrey added that the suspension of non-essential checks would allow practices to prioritise patient care and support practices to engage with the COVID vaccination programme.
GPs already face workload that has risen beyond levels seen last year - and are now preparing to administer flu vaccinations to 11.5m patients aged 50-64 and the COVID campaign alongside other work including network DES specifications.
A CQC spokesperson said: ‘Throughout the pandemic we have been working with the sector to respond and adapt to the pressures that they are facing – suspending routine, frequency-based inspections and responding more to potential risk.
Designated COVID sites
‘There isn’t a specific programme of work to inspect vaccination sites, any activity would be in line with this current methodology and based around potential risk. If we had information of concern, it’s possible that we could undertake focused or targeted inspection activity around a vaccination site on its own but again, this wouldn’t be part of a specific programme of work.
The spokesperson added that it was possible COVID vaccination sites could be considered as part of a wider inspection of a provider, as could happen for any other element of a service.
Routine, frequency-based inspections were suspended on 16 March at the start of the pandemic and remain suspended. But the CQC has continued to carry out inspections in line with its risk-based approach during the pandemic.
Plans published earlier this month revealed that practices selected to carry out COVID-19 vaccinations will be expected to deliver 975 vaccines within a five-day period. GPs have warned of 'unrealistic expectations', arguing that the vaccine could take as much as four times longer than flu jabs during the pandemic.