GPs face prosecution threat over NICE

New regulator warns legal action will be used as a last resort for ignoring NICE guidance.

'Draconian' legal powers to prosecute GPs who do not follow NICE guidelines, or fail other measures of care quality, will be a last resort, according to the head of the new health and social care regulator.

From April 2010, all healthcare providers in England will need to be registered with the Care Quality Commission (CQC), of which Baroness Barbara Young is chair.

To be registered with the commission, providers must give care which meets certain standards, including taking account of NICE guidelines.

Speaking at the NICE annual conference in Manchester last week, Baroness Young said that the Bill establishing the commission gave it 'some quite draconian powers'.

'In theory, every healthcare provider is going to have to be registered and if they don't meet the registration criteria we can withdraw their registration, we can suspend their registration, we can put conditions on it, we can fine them, we can prosecute them, we can do all sorts of things,' she said.

'The reality is, I don't think we are going to be marching into an inadequate provider and shutting it down instantly.'

Baroness Young said that there would be discussions with failing providers as to where problems lay.

In addition, increased transparency would make it easier to see which providers were not providing good-quality services.

After the conference GPC chairman Dr Laurence Buckman said that, although the CQC had considerable powers, for most practices it would be no threat.

'It is incredibly unlikely that GPs will face prosecution,' he said.

Practices facing difficulties would be helped to overcome problems, he said.

Dr Buckman also believes the CQC will have a number of advantages over the Healthcare Commission, from which it will take over regulatory duties, including greater independence.

The new body will also be keen to avoid duplication of effort, particularly in terms of visits, and so would not be visiting every healthcare provider, he said.

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