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GPs face constant scrutiny as survey goes quarterly

By Steve Nowottny

The Government plans to place GPs under constant scrutiny by running its controversial Patient Experience Survey four times a year, Pulse can reveal.

Proposals for quarterly surveys from next year are included in the small print of the Comprehensive Spending Review, unveiled last week.

The questions will also be extended to include more on patients' views about how surgeries are run. This year's £11m survey was used to justify ordering half of all GPs to offer extended opening.

Yet it also emerged this week that the 150 new GP-run health centres promised by Lord Ara Darzi will not be targeted at areas that scored poorly for access in the last survey, with one instead to be located in every PCT.

The centres are designed to be a ‘lever for change' in open-ing hours, but the blanket approach appears to ignore the regional variations in access highlighted by survey results.

But the spending review makes it clear surveys remain central to Government plans. It warns that each survey has a ‘two- to three-month lag between fieldwork and results

being available', so almost constant surveying will be necessary to keep results up to date.

The plan is for the information to be posted on the NHS Choices website, making it much easier for patients to switch surgeries – with GPs expected to compete for patients.

Dr Ruth Livingstone, a GP in Stamford, Lincolnshire, and one of 72 clinicians spearheading Lord Ara Darzi's NHS review, said she was ‘suspicious' of the Government proposals.

‘The frustration for most GPs was that the survey results were good, and yet they were still used as a weapon to attack us and opening hours,' she said.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, GPC negotiator, said: ‘I find it extraordinary that the Government will spend yet more money on surveys it doesn't even take note of. Surveys can have a useful role, but there's absolutely no need to make it into a process.'

The plans come despite health minister Ben Bradshaw admitting large-scale patient surveys should come with a ‘health warning'.

Commenting on a similar scale NHS survey of dental patient satisfaction, Mr Bradshaw said: ‘With any survey that asks people what they think, you don't tend to get responses from people who are happy.'

Will Boots house all 150 primary care centres?

Speculation is mounting that the 150 primary care centres proposed by the Government could all be run by high-street retailers, as Lord Darzi considers a huge expansion of APMS provision using the private sector.
The 150 centres, one proposed for every PCT, coincides exactly with the number of GP clinics under consideration by chemist giant Boots.
However, the company is just one of more than a dozen firms that met the health minister last week to discuss increasing their stake in healthcare provision.
The summit was attended by firms including Alliance Boots, Lloyds Pharmacy and Virgin Health as well as current providers such as Chilvers McRea, Serco Health and UnitedHealth Europe.
Supermarket giant Asda is also in talks with at least one PCT about housing out-of-hours GP services in its stores, although none of the supermarket chains was at the meeting with Lord Darzi last week.

Dr Ruth Livingstone: GPs are frustrated that survey results are good but are still used as a weapon against them Dr Ruth Livingstone: GPs are frustrated that survey results are good but are still used as a weapon against them

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