Hunt backs GP inspection regime
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has dismissed calls from doctors leaders to suspend inspections of GPs' surgeries, saying the move would be a "big mistake".
Doctors' union the British Medical Association's (BMA) called on the Care Quality Commission (CQC) to suspend its current inspection regime after delegates at its annual conference overwhelmingly passed a motion describing it as "unfit for purpose".
Meanwhile, in a separate development, the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) said it was calling on Mr Hunt to introduce an "immediate pause" in inspections of GP practices in a bid to relieve pressure on surgeries which are "on the brink of meltdown".
The college, which represents more than 50,000 family doctors, said the time spent preparing for inspections takes GPs away from delivering safe care to patients and also contributes to waiting times for appointments.
In an open letter to the Health Secretary, RCGP chairwoman Dr Maureen Baker warned that the burdens being placed on GPs by the CQC - and pressure from the Government to provide seven-day care - are undermining efforts to turn around the crisis in general practice.
But Mr Hunt said: "We make absolutely no apology for giving the public clear information for the first time on the quality of their local GP services, or for ensuring that hardworking families can access a GP seven days a week.
"To halt inspections now would be a big mistake, and slow down the process of improvement for those surgeries which aren't giving the public the high standards of care they deserve."
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, the BMA's GP committee chairman, said the CQC's reports were of "questionable clinical value and are presented in simplistic, crude terms that tell patients little about the quality of care being provided by their practice".
He said that "even worse", they have the potential to mislead the public.
The motion was heard at the BMA's annual representatives meeting in Liverpool while a spokesman for the RCGP said its governing council voted overwhelmingly in favour of the emergency motion at the weekend.
The CQC carries out inspections at NHS hospitals, clinics, doctors' surgeries and care homes in England, and has the power to close down surgeries that fail to improve when necessary.
It was set up under the Health and Social Care Act 2008 as the regulator of all health and adult social care services in England, and measures standards against a set of 11 regulations.
Dr Nagpaul added: "Even though the vast majority of practices are ultimately rated as good or outstanding, it is clear that the CQC has lost the confidence of the profession and needs urgently to address the fundamental problems with its inspection regime.
"The BMA's GP committee has been voicing significant concerns about the CQC's operation, particularly the overly bureaucratic and often nit-picking assessments that are wasting days of valuable GP and staff time that could be being spent on treating patients.
"The current regime is incurring huge costs of several hundred million pounds annually.
"Many of the inspection reports are of questionable clinical value and are presented in simplistic, crude terms that tell patients little about the quality of care being provided by their practice.
"Even worse, they have the potential to mislead the public and do not encourage ongoing quality improvement."
The RCGP said every family doctor could gain 120 additional hours a year to care for their patients if the Government were to reduce the general administrative burden that is currently imposed on GPs by half.
It argued that a temporary halt to the inspection process would cut down on some of this bureaucracy as well as prevent general practice from going into "meltdown" in the next six months, as doctors struggle to cope with rocketing patient demand and an increasingly insufficient number of GPs, putting patient safety at risk.
Dr Baker said in her letter: "We believe that the time has come to conduct an urgent review of the CQC's regulatory regime, to eliminate unnecessary bureaucracy and to ensure that it reflects the distinctive nature of general practice and focuses on what matters most to patients.
"Whilst this takes place, we call for the CQC's programme of routine inspections to be halted on a temporary basis as a means of alleviating the pressures on general practice which have now reached such an extent that they are giving rise to serious patient safety concerns.
"This would not, of course, preclude the CQC from conducting inspections of practices where specific reasons existed for doing so, for instance were a practice to be subject to a significant level of complaints."
Professor Steve Field, chief inspector of general practice at the CQC, said: "We are extremely disappointed that the Royal College of General Practitioners has called for an 'emergency pause' to our inspections of general practices, which we carry out to make sure that people across England get safe, high-quality and compassionate primary care.
"The safety and quality of care of people who use these services continue to be our number one priority.
"In the last few weeks alone, we have found some seriously deficient primary care, which has led to us cancelling the registrations of some practices, in the interests of protecting the safety and quality of care for people who use these services."