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Supporting GP practices to tackle health inequalities

Written by: Dr Rosie Benneyworth and Richard Stubbs - 17th May 2022

In this blog, Dr Rosie Benneyworth, Chief Inspector of Primary Medical Services and Integrated Care at Care Quality Commission, and Richard Stubbs, CEO of Yorkshire & Humber AHSN and Vice-Chair of the AHSN Network, reflect on the collaborative work undertaken to better understand how to support GP practices to reduce health inequalities.

Back in September, Rosie wrote about a new project aiming to reduce health inequalities through support from the Regulators’ Pioneer Fund.  This blog aims to update people on how the project and its outputs have developed since.


COVID-19 has had a profound and sustained impact upon health and social care, contributing to many significant changes in how care is delivered. It has also exposed and exacerbated many inequalities faced by people who use services. For many GP practices the pandemic has played a significant role in accelerating the pace and uptake of innovative solutions to tackle those challenges, increasing the need to look at different ways to adapt and respond to the needs of their local populations.

We know that many practices are developing innovative ways to reduce health inequalities in their patch, but these are not consistently recognised or measured in the current CQC’s inspections of practices. It’s vitally important that we build a culture that rewards and champions innovation in order to maintain the drive and empowerment associated with ‘bottom-up’ innovation. Local workforces are in the best place to understand the specific needs of their populations and need to be encouraged and supported to be innovative in their approaches to patient care.

The collaborative project

Reducing inequalities in people’s access, experiences, and outcomes is core to both the CQC and Yorkshire & Humber AHSN’s mission.  Building upon  CQC’s new strategy and the Yorkshire & Humber AHSN’s existing work to tackle health inequalities through the adoption and spread of innovation, this project was the perfect opportunity to collaborate.

Through this project we hoped to better understand the experiences of GP practices in undertaking innovative projects that address health inequalities and how to best encourage this through the CQC’s regulatory approach. We wanted to identify and share examples of best practice so that others may implement or scale similar strategies. Through this work, we also wanted to help practices to successfully evidence innovative practice to reduce health inequalities within the CQC’s regulatory process.

Over the last six months the Yorkshire & Humber AHSN and the CQC carried out desk research and fieldwork, actively engaging with GP practices and CQC inspectors.  The aim of this work was to identify the tools and techniques needed to ensure innovative projects to tackle health inequalities can be better identified, evaluated, and easily recognised within the CQC regulatory process in the future.  Feedback was also collected through a series of case studies, a roundtable event, and expert interviews.

Our findings

We’re really pleased with the wealth of knowledge which practices shared with us through this work.  We’re hugely thankful to all the practices who contributed to the project, as without their invaluable input, the project simply couldn’t have succeeded.  The case studies and feedback we’ve gathered give us a much more in-depth understanding of the different ways innovation can present itself in GP practices. They emphasise the need for the CQC to consider innovation not just as a singular definition or approach for practices to follow, but something that is unique to a practice and the context they are working in. What is business-as-usual for one practice, might be innovative for another.

The research also highlights the need to not just think about innovation in terms of changing measurable outcomes, but as a trajectory or process that takes place across many stages. Innovation is risky and sometimes projects won’t work, but it’s nonetheless still important they are recognised and encouraged, so they lead to innovation which will work in the future.

We know from the CQC’s project looking into the impact and experience of CQC regulation on ethnic-minority-led GP practices that CQC needs to develop how they consider how GP practices have responded to particular challenges, such as low uptake of immunisations and screening.

We also heard that often a provider might be doing something innovative but not share it with CQC, as they didn’t think of it in those terms. So, it’s really important that practices are supported to successfully identify innovative practice and solutions which are contributing to reducing inequalities.

It was also great to see that much of what practices told us in the research supports the aims of  CQC’s new Corporate Strategy. This includes greater transparency of the evidence they will use to make assessments of practices, and a greater focus on people’s experiences, rather than just outcomes.

What’s Next

This has been an important piece of work and has helped CQC to understand the difficulties that practices have had in trying to demonstrate their innovative practice.

In response to this work, CQC will be putting together a resource for GP practices to share the learnings from the project and support them to demonstrate their innovative practice to the CQC.   The next step for CQC is to also consider how to embed this learning, both internally within CQC’s own teams, but also externally with wider systems and providers.

Tackling health inequalities is an essential part of CQC’s new regulatory framework, and they will be taking the findings from this research into our consideration as they continue to transform their regulatory approach.

You can keep up to date with the project on CQC’s Citizen Lab webpage.

This joint blog was first published on CQC website on 12 May 2022