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CQC inspection explained: What does the CQC assess?

The CQC's inspection and rating regime focuses on the quality and safety of services by asking five key questions. From November 2017 the CQC is using an updated framework to assess healthcare services.

Inspectors will ask 5 questions to determine the quality of care in the practice (Picture: iStock)
Inspectors will ask 5 questions to determine the quality of care in the practice (Picture: iStock)

CQC inspection teams will ask whether services are safe, effective, caring, responsive to people's needs and well-led, using the following definitions: 

  • Are they safe? Are people protected from abuse and avoidable harm?
  • Are they effective? People’s care, treatment and support achieves good outcomes, promotes a good quality of life and is based on the best available evidence.
  • Are they caring? The service involves and treats people with compassion, kindness, dignity and respect.
  • Are they responsive to people’s needs? Services meet people’s needs.
  • Are they well led? Leadership, management and governance of the organisation assures the delivery of high-quality, person-centred care, supports learning and innovation, and promotes an open and fair culture.

Key lines of enquiry

For each of these areas, the CQC has a number of questions inspectors will ask about a service. These are known as 'Key lines of enquiry'. Each line of enquiry has a number of sub questions that inspectors will consider, known as 'prompts'.

In November 2017, the CQC updated the key lines of inquiry and 'prompts'.

Population groups

Along with the five key question, the CQC look at the quality of care for the following groups:

  • Older people
  • People with long-term conditions
  • Families, children and young people
  • Working age people (including those recently retired and students)
  • People whose circumstances make them vulnerable
  • People experiencing poor mental health (including those with dementia).

Assessing services in this way means that the public will be able to see how a service is rated for the care of a group most similar to them.


The CQC uses CQC Insight to monitor possible changes in the quality of care that practices provide. CQC Insight brings together all the information the CQC holds about practice and is updated throughout the year. It includes information from the QOF, the GP patient survey, NHS Business Services Authority and Public Health England.

Before an inspection the CQC will ask practices for documents and information to help it prepare the inspection and understand more about the service you provide. There is more detail on the type of information the CQC may request here.

The CQC also works with local and regional organisations to help it decide when and where it inspects including CCGs, local authorities, local Healthwatch and LMCs.


Practices will either be subject to a comprehensive inspection - which will address all five key questions and cover all six population groups - or a focused inspection, if the CQC is following up aon an area of concern, which will usually focus on a particular area or issue.

Read more: How does the CQC rate practices?

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