Last reviewed 24 February 2021

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) is consulting on plans to phase out routine, on-site GP practice inspections except in cases where the regulator has been alerted to safety risks.

The CQC also plans to change how often practice ratings are updated, with assessments to be triggered by “changes in quality” rather than taking place following an agreed number of years.

The public consultation, which is open until 23 March 2021, available here, is looking at how the CQC can improve how it assesses primary care services. It comes as the regulator announced plans to collect and monitor the ethnicity data of GP providers in order to evaluate whether its ratings processes are biased.

Although the CQC said in its consultation that “inspection will remain an important part of how we assess quality”, it intends to move away from using comprehensive, on-site inspection as the main way of updating ratings.

It will, instead, use “wider sources of evidence, tools, and techniques” to assess quality, including where appropriate evidence has been gathered following focused or targeted inspections, assessments without a site visit, and if significant enforcement action is needed to protect people.

On-site inspection will be carried out where the CQC has information about significant risks to people’s safety and to ensure the rights of vulnerable people are protected.

The change in approach has been prompted by the outcome of the Government’s review into NHS bureaucracy, here, and the CQC’s pilots that reduced inspections during the Covid-19 pandemic.

There is also a proposal to end the current system of assessing practices based on the experience of patient population groups, such as older people, those with long-term conditions, or families, and children and young people. This would be replaced with practice assessments based on the five key questions: is the practice safe; effective; caring; responsive; and well-led.

The proposed changes will help the CQC deal with ongoing challenges from the Covid-19 pandemic and help it become a more “dynamic, proportionate and flexible regulator”.

The CQC is also planning to collect and monitor the ethnicity data of GP providers following “longstanding concerns” that practices led by Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) partners are more likely to receive lower CQC ratings. The data will be collected as the regulator develops its new registration information collection.