An “external body” is set to be appointed to assess the effectiveness of the Care Quality Commission, HSJ has learnt.

The assessment would be separate from the Department of Health’s capability review of the CQC, the outcome of which is expected shortly.

Chief executive Cynthia Bower told HSJ the regulator’s board was “very keen” on “getting an external body to have more of an independent look at our effectiveness”.

The assessor would be either a consultancy or “academic partner”. It would be appointed from April as part of a reworked strategy being developed by the CQC in response to the capability review and criticism that it has not given enough priority to helping NHS organisations improve care.

The regulator is also developing, in partnership with the DH, measures to assess its impact on health and social care outcomes. Ms Bower said she was “absolutely sure” this would involve “formalising” feedback from trusts on the CQC’s performance.

These measures are also likely to consider how quickly organisations react to CQC warnings, whether they remain compliant with standards, and to what extent the threat of enforcement action acts as a “deterrent”, she said.

The CQC appears to be moving even further away from the ultra “light touch” regulation that was its original remit. Having already decided to return to annual inspections, it is now also planning to contribute to policy debates and carry out broader reviews of health services.

When Ms Bower appeared before the public accounts committee two weeks ago, MPs criticised the regulator for discontinuing the “thematic reviews” of an area of care which were a major feature of the work of its predecessor, the Healthcare Commission.

Ms Bower told HSJ her organisation was currently considering “how we start to use the information that we have as a regulator to position ourselves more in the policy space and to say more about what we’re learning about the sectors we regulate”.  

This will start with a second phase of dignity and nutrition inspections, as well as reviews of domiciliary care providers, the cosmetic surgery industry and learning disability care. 

An additional 229 compliance inspectors and 19 compliance managers are being recruited at a cost of an extra £15m a year. In 2012-13, £5m of this is being funded by the CQC’s underspend and £10m from the DH.

Ms Bower also told HSJ that pilot work on registering GPs with the CQC from next April has shown that practices are likely to be most challenged by staffing and the state of their premises.

She denied the CQC’s plan to inspect practices every two years, rather than annually like other organisations, would leave it open to criticism in the event of a GP-related care scandal.

General practice “generates lots of data”, she said, and practitioners would continue to be regulated by the General Medical Council. GPs were being “open about issues”, she said, adding: “If we need to go in, we’ll go in.”