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Northern Ireland: RQIA told inspections must not resume as planned

14 August 2020
We met with the RQIA this week to outline our objections to their plan for the renewal of site inspections in September. We made clear that extra disruption caused by an RQIA inspection is the very last thing practitioners need in the current circumstances.


RQIA recently wrote to all GDPs advising that they will be resuming their inspection programme of dental practices from the week commencing 24 August. This follows on from a directive issued by the Chief Medical Officer on behalf of the Department of Health mandating RQIA to resume their statutory inspection programme, to include dental practices.


Our meeting with RQIA follows our request to the Chief Medical Officer to exempt dental practices from a resumption of physical inspections at a time when practices are trying to resume patient care and get back on their feet following the impact of the pandemic.


We raised the supportive Emergency Support Framework (ESF) approach being adopted by CQC in England, which comprises of a supportive telephone conversation instead of on-site inspections - and asked for a similar approach here.


However, while RQIA listened to our concerns they are still insisting that ‘on-site’ inspections for the first tranche of inspections will go ahead with mitigating measures – the inspector will wear appropriate PPE, keep a two metre distance from GDP staff, and talks to each member of staff for no longer than 15 minutes.


RQIA has committed to working with NIDPC over the coming weeks to design an updated inspection process which could feature remote inspections if the practical details can be worked out. 


RQIA will be issuing a communication to practitioners that will set out further details of their proposed approach to inspection. We have urged them to reflect the concerns raised on behalf of the profession in as light touch a manner as possible. We have also asked the regulator to consider providing practices with the option of an ‘off-site’ inspection, and to move away from a compulsory ‘on-site’ inspection.


Various assurances were given by RQIA, including that all practices selected for inspection would receive a supportive telephone call with an inspector a month in advance of an inspection taking place, and around flexibility to set a mutually convenient date for inspections. RQIA stressed that they wanted inspections to occur at a mutually acceptable time – even after normal working hours in exceptional circumstances – and inspectors should speak to the Practice Owner directly, not receptionists. If Practice Owners have any concerns, then they invited to call Senior Inspector Jo Browne on 028 9536 1887.


We will continue to advocate on behalf of the profession, and trust that a degree of common-sense will prevail when it is needed more than ever.