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Are UK GPs really the envy of the world?

Whether it's economic recession, armed police patrols on the streets or Bon Jovi, you can bet whatever starts in America will eventually end up in the UK. GPs must surely be hoping that when it comes to primary care, things are an exception to the rule.

By Ian Quinn

Whether it's economic recession, armed police patrols on the streets or Bon Jovi, you can bet whatever starts in America will eventually end up in the UK. GPs must surely be hoping that when it comes to primary care, things are an exception to the rule.

This week a report by the leading US think tank, the Commonwealth Fund (admit it you'd never heard of it either) appeared to bring good news for our embattled GPs.

Having conducted a poll of 10,000 family doctors across several countries, it found the UK ranked higher than most if not all, including the US, in a whole range of primary care factors.

From health secretary Andy Burnham, to the NHS Confederation, those on this side of the Atlantic were quick to celebrate the good old NHS and the poll appeared to give GPs a rare shot in the arm (no swine flu vaccine pun intended).

Yet on closer inspection, is it such good news for GPs after all?

The poll includes GPs in the UK (89% of them anyway) reporting they are pleased to have financial incentives linked to high patient satisfaction ratings, far more so that in the US.

Quite how much the practices that lost thousands of pounds under the GP Patient Survey this year were celebrating the link is up for debate.

Also cited as a winner for the UK is our GPs' apparent enthusiasm for the use of electronic patient records, something which they are more than twice as likely to be using as their US cousins ,according to the poll.

Ah, the Summary Care Record, of course, another universally popular feature of GPs' lives?

To be fair , the use of care teams and systems to care for patients with chronic illness may be a more unqualified thing to brag about, with the poll showing UK GPs again near the top of the world pile-unlike America.

Yet the overall tone of the think tank's findings seems to set the barometers for success in very American terms. It is a US study urging US primary care to become more corporate, not something our health secretary should be jumping to celebrate about.

On the same day it was interesting to here Professor Gordon Moore, a Professor in the Department of Population Medicine at Harvard Medical School, warning GPs at the RCGP conference in Glasgow that the UK risked throwing away its reputation for continuity of care, which he said was the envy of the world, if it followed the US lead with strategies such as Darzi centres, a salaried GP-led workforce and ramping up the corporate culture of private providers.

Continuity of care was something conspicuous in its absence in the US poll but recent developments suggest while this aspect of the NHS may be the true reason for general practice in the UK to be the envy of the world, it is more than ever under threat.

Happy Andy: but is he right to celebrate the US poll results? Happy Andy: but is he right to celebrate the US poll results?

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