Some GP practices 'causing concern'
Around 160 GP practices across England could be a "cause for concern", health regulators have warned.
The Care Quality Commission's (CQC) chief inspector of general practice said failures at these GP surgeries could affect thousands of patients across England.
In an interview with Sky News, Professor Steve Field said that around 2% of the 8,000 surgeries across the country could be operating below an expected standard.
This means that across the country as many as 160 practices could be providing a poor service to patients.
He told the broadcaster: "Although a small proportion, around 2%, of the 8,000 GP practices across England are a cause for concern, their failings have the potential to affect 100s or 1000s within a local community.
"Where practices give cause for concern the main priority is for those practices to improve and the new special measures regime is designed to direct practices to improvement and give them time to improve."
The regulator has recently started piloting a new method of inspecting England's GP practices.
CQC said that 348 practices have been inspected so far with a small number being identified as providing " very poor care".
Earlier this year the regulator warned that GP services which are not providing adequate care could be shut down.
Surgeries will receive Ofsted-style ratings - where they are deemed to be outstanding, good, requires improvement or inadequate - and those that are given the lowest rating face being put into special measures. If they fail to make improvements following this they could be shut down.
Inspectors examine whether practices are safe, effective, caring, responsive to people's needs and whether or not they are well led.
When parts of a GP practice's service are deemed to be inadequate they will have six months to improve, and, if after this deadline they have failed to get better they will be put into special measures.
If after another six months the practice has shown no signs of improvement, they could have their registration with the health regulator cancelled or their contract terminated by NHS England - meaning that they would be forced to close.
Those that are performing exceptionally badly will be immediately put into the failure regime, CQC said.
Professor Field later added: "General Practice is the jewel in our crown. Most GPs across the country are providing really good care despite rising demand and other problems such as old premises. Unfortunately the majority are undermined by a small percentage of GPs who are not providing the care our patients deserve.
"CQC will shine a light on those poor practices but will also celebrate good and outstanding practices and encourage improvement.
"Everyone should be able to receive good quality care from their GP practice, whoever they are and wherever they live in England. Our new style inspections will help to celebrate and promote good practice and ensure that GP practices in need of further support are identified so that they are better able to meet the needs of their local communities."
Dr Maureen Baker, chairwoman of the Royal College of General Practitioners, said: "Patients should expect high quality and consistent care from every GP practice and the vast majority of practices do an excellent job of delivering care to the highest possible quality standards.
"But there is no excuse for poor care and action must be taken if practices are failing to provide decent standards of care to their patients.
"If practices are struggling to meet quality standards due to factors beyond their control - such as lack of funding, significant increases in patient consultations and difficulties in trying to recruit sufficient GPs - we should not be 'labelling' them but looking at what support they need to bring them up to scratch.
"Also, if practices close, there could be a knock-on effect to neighbouring practices so any decisions about closures will need to be cognisant of that.
"General practice is in an extremely fragile state and we urgently need more funding so that GPs everywhere are given the resources and support they need to do their jobs properly and deliver safe and high quality care for all their patients."