The Care Quality Commission has taken the decision to pause some routine inspections of NHS acute services, GP practices and urgent care services planned for January.
The regulator said the move was in response to “increased pressure on the health and care system”, as services faced additional demand driven in part by a rise in respiratory illness and influenza.
“The entire health and social care system is at full stretch”
For the remainder of January, consideration will be given to rescheduling planned routine inspections of acute NHS trusts, based on individual trust circumstances, said the CQC in a statement on 10 January.
However, it noted that responsive inspections that had been sparked by concerns about quality or safety would continue as usual.
In addition, there would be a pause in re-inspections of GP practices and urgent care services rated “good” or “outstanding”, where there is no information to indicate concerns about quality or safety.
In contrast, re-inspections of services rated as “requires improvement” or “inadequate” would continue as scheduled, as will inspections to follow up on concerns, highlighted the CQC.
Because most adult social care inspections were carried out on an unannounced basis in response to risk and to follow up concerns, the planned inspection schedule would not change, said the CQC.
“To support the system as much as possible, we are rescheduling some routine inspections”
However, the regulator said the situation would be kept under “constant review” and the schedule “will be amended accordingly” if it received a notification of a flu or norovirus outbreak at a location.
A normal inspection schedule is “expected to resume” in February, said the CQC, but this would be “subject to review based on close monitoring of system performance”.
Any inspections deferred during January will be rescheduled as soon as possible, it added, with providers contacted directly about any changes to planned inspections.
CQC chief executive Sir David Behan said: “The entire health and social care system is at full stretch – now an increase in respiratory illness and flu has further intensified this pressure.
“To support the system as much as possible, we are rescheduling some routine inspections of services,” said Sir David.
“This is to allow frontline staff and leaders to focus on continuing to ensure that people receive safe, high-quality care during this period of increased demand,” he said.
“However, inspections scheduled in response to concerns about quality or safety will go ahead as planned,” he added.
Sir David also said it was important to remember that the current pressures did “not originate with and are not restricted” to emergency departments or acute trusts.
Citing a recent CQC report, he said: “As we set out in the interim findings from our first six local system reviews, this is a whole system issue, which demands a whole system response.
“The long-term solution must be for health and care providers and commissioners to collaborate to provide health and social care services that meet the needs of their local population, with a stronger focus on keeping people well and helping them stay out of hospital, and on reducing variation that can inhibit people’s access to and choice of services,” he said.