The Department of Health is setting aside a cash pot of £15 million for GPs so that practices won’t feel any pinch from a sharp rise in Care Quality Commission fees planned within the next two years.

In consultation papers out this week, the CQC is proposing a massive hike in fees to cover for the full cost of its inspections, that could see some larger GP practices having to pay more than £9,000 in 2016/17 and £17,000 in 2017/18 compared to this year’s £2,681 bill.

But a spokesperson for the Department of Health told PharmaTimes Digital that, based on the expected rises, it will sink a further £15 million into the GP contract to ensure that practices - many of which are already financially stretched - won’t need to fork out any extra cash. However, details on exact plans for GP support remain thin, as the consultation is underway.

“The last thing that GPs and our practice staff need is further charges whilst we are under intense resource pressure,” said Royal College of General Practitioners chair Maureen Baker. “We are pleased that the Department of Health has stepped in to address this situation, so that practices will not suffer financially as a result of these changes - but practices need assurances that these will cover all costs,” she added.

“While we understand and recognise that the government has indicated resourcing GP practices for this expense, this provides no assurance that the costs will be fully met, nor that it will be recurrently available,” said Chaand Nagpaul, the chair of the British Medical Association’s GP committee.

“This significant financial burden could be the final straw for many GPs and practices with many already having to cope with swingeing cuts to their core budgets and escalating costs of keeping a practice open,” he warned, adding that the “wholly unjustified and damaging proposals” could have “a damaging effect on patient care by further shrinking practice resources for frontline services”. 

And end to the regime

Both the BMA and RCGP have also hit out at the watchdog’s inspection procedure. “What we really need is for the GP inspection regime to be halted and a less resource-heavy and bureaucratic process be put in place, so that GPs are not taken away from frontline patient care whilst inspections are underway,” said Dr Baker. The BMA has also “already called for end to the disproportionate, bureaucratic nature of CQC inspections, which currently has a focus on pointless box ticking that takes GPs and staff away from caring for patients,” noted Dr Nagpaul.

The rise in CQC fees will apply to all the health and social care providers it inspects, and thus far GPs are the only group singled out for government assistance in absorbing the hit, as the impact would be greatest. But Rob Webster, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said the 40%-plus increase will also be a “considerable burden” on NHS trusts.

“It comes as providers forecast a deficit of around £2 billion this year and face £1 billion of increased pension payments from 2016/17,” he noted, and warned that “the goodwill of providers towards CQC and its new approach to inspections could be jeopardised by this fee increase”.