Patients able to compare GP service
Patients can compare GP surgeries in their area for the first time after the health watchdog published data suggesting around one in six may be falling below care standards.
The Care Quality Commission (CQC) has launched its "intelligent monitoring" database, allowing patients to see which practices were highest on the list of priority for inspections under the watchdog's new regime.
Exactly 1,200 fell into the top two priority bands, labelled the "highest concern", based on evidence of patient experience, care and treatment from sources including major surveys and official statistics.
Many were rated as either a "risk" or "elevated risk" on a checklist of 38 indicators including poor access to appointments, deficient planning for mental health patients and insufficient cancer screenings.
But the CQC said the reports released online were not a judgment on practices' quality, which would be made only once they had been inspected, and around 3,800 were in band six, or of "lowest concern".
Professor Steve Field, chief inspector of general practice, said: "There is a lot of good and outstanding care taking place across the country as our data and recent reports show.
"While it is positive that 78% of general practices are currently a low concern based on the available data, there is no reason for complacency and standards must continue to improve.
But speaking to the Daily Telegraph, he added: "We're also sadly finding some very poor practices. These typically are chaotic, have very poor leadership and a lack of learning culture. They also have a poor skill mix, some don't have any nurses.
"Patients could be at risk by simple things such as prescribing out-of-date medicines and vaccines."
Of the 336 inspections the CQC has carried out so far it found one in six surgeries had limited access to appointments and services, while there was "too much variation in the reporting and investigation of serious incidents".
Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients' Association, said: "We often hear about the difficulties people have trying to get an appointment with their GP. It is an area that general practice has to get right.
"Our own reports have highlighted the access that people have that matches CQC's analysis. We hope that CQC's work in highlighting this major issue will act as a catalyst and there will be some positive changes."
The CQC aims to inspect all GP surgeries by March 2016, with those rated in the top two bands, one and two, being inspected from next year.
To view the bandings, including a map of surgeries, visit www.cqc.org.uk.