• Regulator suspends routine inspections except where there are immediate safety concerns
  • Decision follows pressure from NHS chiefs and royal colleges amid covid-19 surge
  • NHS Confederation: “Front-line staff will breathe a sigh of relief”  

The Care Quality Commission has suspended its routine inspections due to the coronavirus outbreak following pressure from system leaders and NHS bosses, HSJ understands.

The decision to suspend inspections where there are no immediate safety concerns is understood to have been taken by the CQC’s executive team at 10am this morning, senior sources told HSJ. Both the NHS Confederation and The Royal College of GPs said the decision had been made.

NHS Confederation called the move a “sigh of relief” for front-line staff, while the RCGPs said it would enable GPs to dedicate their time to providing care. 

NHS Confederation chief executive Niall Dickson said: “Front-line 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.”

Services will also not have to fill out provider information forms in preparation for when safety critical inspections take place. Mr Dickson said filling out this form “can be more burdensome than the visit itself”.

Mr Dickson added: “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.”

The CQC was under considerable pressure from NHS leaders to suspend its routine inspections last week. Mr Dickson said the inspections would be an “inevitable distraction” to front-line staff. NHS England chief executive Sir Simon Stevens also called for the “bulk” of inspections to be suspended.

There had been 1,372 confirmed covid-19 cases in the UK, and 35 patients have died at the time of writing on 16 March.

CQC chief executive Ian Trenholm, in a letter to providers, said the regulator may still use its inspection powers ”in a very small number of cases when we have clear reports of harm, such as allegations of abuse”. 

In a statement, Mr Trenholm 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.

“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.”

Story updated on 16 March at 2:26pm to include statement from Care Quality Commission.