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Independents' Day

Is the patient survey row being used as a smokescreen?

The survey's methodology is a mess, no question, but for most GPs that may not be the reason why they are losing money

The survey's methodology is a mess, no question, but for most GPs that may not be the reason why they are losing money

Could it be that the GPC is indulging in a spot of spin? Or rather, employing some rather cunning diversionary tactics?

As the patient survey results started trickling through last week, and GPs were confronted of losses of £10,000 or more, the negotiators got pretty agitated.

GPC chair Dr Laurence Buckman seethed that it was ‘appalling' GPs should lose thousands because of the survey's flawed methodology.

‘The financial impact on some practices has been huge and unfair,' he said.

And he was right… up to a point.

He was certainly right that the methodology of the survey – which is now posted rather than handed out in the surgery – is a mess.

He was right also that those practices that have seen low response rates, of as few as 1% of their practice list, have in many cases been well and truly done over.

Low response rate equates to a self-selecting survey, and which is going to be the greater motivation to fill in a 49-question monster – enduring love for your GP, or a fierce and irrational hatred?

But while everything Dr Buckman said was pretty much true, something he implied was not. Because in most cases, the losses GPs are suffering from the patient survey are not the result of the change in methodology.

The change in methodology may be grossly unfair, but for many practices it doesn't actually seem to have made much difference to their satisfaction scores. Patients were happy before and they're still happy now.

The real cause of the losses seems much simpler.

The Government, as part of a negotiated settlement with the GPC, ramped up the minimum patient satisfaction thresholds at which payments would be made under the QOF, from 50% to 70% for question PE7, and 40% to 60% for PE8.

So practices now get lots less money for precisely the same satisfaction scores.

It's not a lot of help to GPs who have lost money. It doesn't make it any less ridiculous that a large chunk of GP cash is tied to how a particular group of patients happened to be feeling that day.

And it certainly doesn't lessen the imperative to help out those who have been victims of the ridiculous new survey method.

But it does mean GP negotiators should perhaps own up to a share of the blame.

Richard Hoey, Pulse editor

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