Routine inspections for hospitals, GP surgeries and care homes have been suspended so health and care workers can concentrate efforts on battling coronavirus.
The Care Quality Commission (CQC) announced it has temporarily paused inspections of health and care organisations where there are no immediate safety concerns.
The move was welcomed by health leaders, some of whom had warned that inspections could divert attention away from clinical care.
Ian Trenholm, chief executive of the CQC, said: “During this period, our priority will be to support those who deliver health and social care to keep people safe during this global health emergency.
“We will therefore be stopping routine inspections from today. It may still be necessary to use our inspection powers in a very small number of cases when there is clear evidence of harm, such as allegations of abuse.
“In adult social care, our inspectors will also be acting as a support for registered managers, providing advice and guidance throughout this period in the absence of a single national body equivalent to NHS England.
“We are talking to social care providers about how to most effectively collect information from them to ensure that the Government has a clear picture of the impact that Covid-19 is having on the sector.”
The NHS Confederation said frontline staff will “breathe a sigh of relief” as the NHS faces “the greatest challenge in its history”.
The British Medical Association (BMA) said the decision was “common sense”.
Niall Dickson, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said: “Frontline staff will breathe a sigh of relief that CQC has responded to our concerns and will now postpone its inspections where there is no immediate safety concern so that they can gear themselves up to prepare for the huge task ahead in dealing with the coronavirus pandemic.
“We will work closely with CQC leaders as they develop its temporary methodology for inspecting services remotely.
“While regulation has an important role to play, the focus now has to be on doing everything we can to help the NHS face the greatest challenge in its history.”
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chair of council at the BMA, added: “Given the growing scale of the pandemic, the absolute priority for hospitals and GP practices must be focusing on the task at hand, including emergency preparedness planning and coping with the likelihood of significant staff absences, over and above meeting the already huge demands that are placed upon the NHS.
“As we made clear to the CQC last week, it would be wholly wrong for overstretched healthcare staff to divert hard-pressed time and resources to prepare for and accommodate inspections when their sole focus must be on ensuring their ongoing ability to provide continued care to patients during the pandemic as well as their own safety.
“The NHS faces an unprecedented challenge in the weeks and months ahead, and the BMA will continue to pressure the Government and health authorities to reduce bureaucracy in the system so that doctors can focus on the urgent needs of the patients who need them most.”