GP practices in England providing poor care will be given a deadline to make improvements, or face closure if they fail.
A new “special measures” regime is being introduced from October by the Care Quality Commission.
The move will coincide with the start of a new ratings system under which practices will be classed as outstanding, good, requires improvement or inadequate.
The CQC said it will work closely with NHS England to pilot the scheme, which will operate “in close consultation” with other professional bodies including the General Medical Council and the Royal College of GPs.
Under the new regime, practices found to be inadequate will have six months to improve. Those who fail to do so will be put into special measures and given a further six months to meet the required standards. At the end of this process, those who still fall short will have their CQC registration cancelled and their contract with NHS England terminated.
For practices that are believed to be putting patients at risk, the CQC will have the power to put them straight into special measures.
The scheme is similar to one the CQC already operates in NHS hospital trusts and there are plans to extend it next year to the adult social care sector.
Professor Steve Field, the CQC’s chief inspector of GPs, said: “Most GP practices provide good care. But we can't allow those that provide poor care to continue to let their patients have an inadequate service.
"When health and care organisations fail the people to whom they provide care, it's important that failure is identified quickly and the action is to ensure services for people improve. That sits at the heart of special measures."
The scheme was given a cautious welcome by RCGP chair Dr Maureen Baker who agreed that poor care “must be addressed”.
But she said that a small number of practices struggle to meet quality standards “often due to factors beyond their control”. This includes a lack of funding, significant increases in patient consultations and difficulties in recruiting GP staff.
“If this is the case, the solution is not to ‘label’ them but to look at what support they need to bring them up to scratch,” she said.
“The RCGP will have no involvement in the inspection process or in making judgments about the work of individual practices.
“But we welcome the opportunity to play a significant role in supporting GPs and practices to deliver the best care they possibly can to their patients.”