GP surgeries could close under special measures

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First time national failure regime has been introduced in England

The Care Quality Commission has revealed that the special measures scheme used for hospitals will now be rolled out across GP practices, with failing surgeries facing closure.

The initiative will start in October and will involve 8,000 practices being inspected by March 2016. This is the first time there has been a national failure regime for the profession, as currently GP’s just have to report whether they are compliant with a set of core standards. Surgeries will now be rated either outstanding, good, requires improvement or inadequate, with those hitting the bottom ranking being given either six months or a year to resolve problems before the possibility of being shut down.

Prof Steve Field, the CQC’s chief inspector of GP’s, told BBC News “Most GP practices provide good care. But we can’t allow those that provide poor care to continue to let their patients have an inadequate service.”

Combating failure

The special measures programme for GP means that any practices labelled as inadequate will be given six months by the CQC to improve. If after that time, they are still at the lowest level, they are placed into special measures and given another six months to improve. Some surgeries can be placed immediately into special measures if conditions are bad enough. Practices will be given support whilst in special measures however failure to improve will lead to either the CQC withdrawing its registration or NHS England terminating its contract. In both cases the practice will not be allowed to continue as it is.

Royal College of GPs chair Dr Maureen Baker said “Patients should expect high quality and consistent care from every GP practice and the vast majority of practices do an excellent job. But there is occasionally a very real variation in the quality of care provided and this must be addressed.” She blamed surgery struggles on environmental factors such as lack of funding, rises in patient demand or problems recruiting patients.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, of the British Medical Association, added “It is right GP’s are held to account, but in many circumstances failures are more about the environment they work in than the individual practice.” Patients Association chief executive Katherine Murphy said “It is about time we had something like this. But it does seem like a very long time for patients to be exposed to poor care while GP practices try to sort themselves out.”