Headlines: September 1st, 2005

The National Health Service has launched the world’s most comprehensive database on the prevalence and management of common chronic diseases. It is made up of results from a new GP payment system and is expected to make NHS family doctors world leaders in the management of common chronic diseases and, in the longer term, to help the NHS deal with health inequalities by targeting those people who are at risk and using resources accordingly.The launch came as doctors were congratulated for delivering high quality services as other results from the new payment system – the Quality and Outcomes Framework – showed patients were receiving a high standard of care and treatment from their local GP practices.

The British medical Association said that for the first time GPs in England were able to demonstrate tangibly the very high standard of care they were providing with the publication of first year achievement figures under the framework showing that the average national score per practice was 959 out of a possible 1050 points. Dr Hamish Meldrum, who chairs the BMA’s General Practitioners’ Committee said the results showed that GPs could quickly adapt to new and better ways of working.

Health Minister Lord Warner also congratulated GPs and said the high scores showed that the new GP contract put in place last year was giving practices a real incentive to improve the quality of their care and to provide a wide range of services locally. An average sized practice which gets an average Quality and Outcome Framework score will receive 74,299 pounds extra.

It has been possible to develop the groundbreaking database because the payments system requires family doctors systematically to record patient information. This means that patients with chronic conditions like diabetes and coronary heart disease benefit from good quality, consistent care, because the system makes it easy for GPs to recall patients for follow-up appointments and to know when checks are due.

Lorde Warner said, “This new system gives the NHS, for the first time ever, world-leading intelligence on chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease. This means that in future the NHS will be able to map populations with these debilitating conditions with pinpoint accuracy. As the database builds up it will allow us to focus resources and plan services appropriately to help us tackle health inequalities.”

In spite of their welcome for the scores achieved by doctors the BMA has voiced some concerns about the conclusions that can be drawn from the data. Dr. Meldrum warned that the Framework covered only certain aspects of a practice’s work and, as the scheme is voluntary, he said there could be many reasons why a practice had a lower score than its neighbours. “A lower score does not necessarily mean that the practice is a lower quality one. For instance, a higher number of patients with certain types of disease could make the quality points more difficult to achieve.”