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DH to axe patient survey and bring in local checks on GPs

By Ian Quinn

Exclusive: The hugely controversial GP Patient Survey will be scrapped as part of the Government purge of NHS targets, to be replaced by a network of local health watchdogs to monitor practice performance, Pulse can reveal.

Patient representatives and locally elected officials will collect feedback on practices, with the focus to be widened from access to include treatment outcomes and continuity of care.

Details of what will replace the survey emerged as the latest results show practices are to be condemned to further losses of thousands of pounds each, after swine flu helped push down annual access performance.

The Department of Health revealed in its NHS Operating Framework last week that it would axe the access indicators, and a senior Government source told Pulse the Ipsos MORI survey itself would be scrapped. But GPs will not escape close scrutiny, with a new national body called Health Watch to be established to oversee feedback on practices.

It will run a network of local bodies similar to the old community health councils – including appointed officers, local volunteers, councillors and newly elected health officials.

The source told Pulse: ‘We condemned the abolition of community health councils. The role of Health Watch will in many ways be similar.'

Factors such as continuity of care and a range of outcome measures would be given emphasis over access, as part of the move to rid the NHS of Labour's target culture.

The patient survey has been a key Department of Health weapon in the drive on GP access, with more than £20m spent on it in the past two years.

Many GPs in England learned they would be hit by further losses in revenue last week after patient-reported access to practices slipped. Performance on questions PE7 and PE8 fell, with 80% of respondents able to obtain a consultation within two working days compared with 84% last year. Some 19% said they could not obtain a consultation within two days, up from 15% last year.

GPC negotiatator Dr Beth McCarron Nash said GPs would ‘definitely lose out' through the dip in survey performance after the burden of swine flu and its vaccination programme, calling it ‘unjust and unfair'.

She added: ‘The survey is a ridiculous £13m waste of space and we'll be very glad to see it scrapped.'

GPC chair Dr Laurence Buckman said: ‘We believe there are better, more cost-effective ways to get genuine patient feedback, for example though local patient surveys or practices' patient participation groups.'

Professor Martin Roland, professor of health services research at the University of Cambridge, who helped IPSOS MORI draw up the patient survey, said he would welcome a move away from its obsession with access, but that it should not be scrapped altogether. ‘It would be a mistake to think the survey is not a useful tool for GPs and patients.'

Dr Beth McCarron-Nash How Health Watch will operate

• Independent national body with officers appointed by health secretary and locally elected members

• Will report on quality of GP services, including practice visits, and will pursue patient complaints

• Will recommend different commissioning priorities when it believes patient interests are not being best served

Source: Conservative Party

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