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Last Updated: Wednesday, 31 August 2005, 10:00 GMT 11:00 UK
Data gives patients check on GPs
Image of patients waiting to see a doctor
Patients can check their surgery's performance
For the first time, patients in England can check how well their GP's surgery is performing now official new figures have been released.

The data shows how well doctors scored on things such as appointment times and chronic disease care.

GPs exceeded expectations, scoring high on the new measures, introduced last year with the new GP contract.

On average, practices achieved 91% of available points and, in turn, bonus payments for their work.

Success

Health experts heralded the achievement saying it showed GP services were delivering high quality care.

The Quality and Outcomes framework is a voluntary process that awards surgeries points for clinical care, patient experience, how well organised the practice is and what extra services, such as child immunisations, it offers.

It shows the very high quality of GP services in the UK and how hard practices have worked to improve quality
Dr Gill Morgan, chief executive of the NHS Confederation

GPs' payments are calculated based on how many points they score out of a possible 1,050, each point earning surgeries 77.50.

The final sum paid to practices is also adjusted to take account of their workload and the relative health of patients in their area.

Health Minister Lord Warner said: "I congratulate GPs on their achievement.

ABOUT THE FRAMEWORK
GP surgeries are paid according to how many points they score
Points are awarded according to how well the surgery has performed, with 1,050 points up for grabs, out of:
550 for good clinical care
184 for surgeries that are well organised
100 for patient experience
36 for surgeries that provide extra services, such as some jabs

"The high scores show that the new GP contract we put in place last year is proving successful in giving practices a real incentive to improve the quality of care for NHS patients and to provide a wide range of services locally."

Dr Gill Morgan, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents more than 90% of NHS organisations, said: "GPs have exceeded expectations during the first year, earning many more points than was originally estimated which is good news for patients.

"It shows the very high quality of GP services in the UK and how hard practices have worked to improve quality."

Big payouts

However, she said it did mean many primary care trusts (PCTs) would now face short-term financial challenges.

The high scores now seen mean the incentive scheme could cost about 200 million more than expected to pay the 8,486 practices in England that were assessed.

"They [PCTs] will be paying more money than expected to GPs who have achieved more points than expected."

But she said the costs would be dwarfed by the potential savings from improving the nation's health.

HOW WELL PRACTICES SCORED
98% of practices offered patients a range of appointment times including a minimum of 5 mornings and 4 afternoons a week
94% of practices met the target for consultation length - routine booked appointments normally not less than 10 minutes, open surgery system at least 8 minutes
82% of practices allowed access to a receptionist via phone and face to face for at least 45 hours a week

Dr Hamish Meldrum from the British Medical Association said patients could use the scores to get an indication of how well their GP practice has performed.

But he added: "Don't read too much into this alone."

He said there were many other factors not measured in the framework that reflected whether a GP surgery was good or not.

Also, he said the framework was still in its infancy and that there were bound to be teething problems.

Some GPs have been concerned the figures could be turned into an unfair league table of doctors.

Teething problems

They have warned that it is unfair to compare surgeries, when staffing numbers and the nature of premises affect how many points doctors can hope to achieve. Also, striving for points for payment could bias clinical priorities, some argue.

The framework, which represents up to about a third of the available total remuneration for a GP surgery, is being reviewed at the moment.

Image of a GP with paperwork
Some GPs had feared it would mean more paperwork

Negotiators agreed last year that any data collected should be useful in patient care and should never be for purely audit purposes.

The NHS Alliance believes the next step must be to take more account of patient experiences as well as technical quality indicators.

Currently, only 100 points are awarded to surgeries whose patients report that they happy with the care they receive, such as length of consultation and access to care out of hours.

Yet 184 points are up for grabs by practices that can show they are well organised, such as keeping good written records of the care they provide.

Liberal Democrat health spokesman Steve Webb said the fact that less than 10% of the ranking score was based on patients views raised serious questions about the government's claim to be creating a 'patient-led' NHS.

The Primary Care Cardiovascular Society said that while it was reassuring that GP surgeries had scored highly, it was now time for tougher targets to be set for managing coronary heart disease.

The performance data can be found at http://www.icservices.nhs.uk/qofdocuments/notes.htm




BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
See how patients will be able to use the data



SEE ALSO:
Doctors cash in on new pay deal
28 Jun 05 |  Scotland
GP contract 'benefits patients'
17 Jun 04 |  Health


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