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It's too early to start manning the barricades

Increasingly alarmist headlines regarding possible publication of league tables have set back rational debate on practice information by decades. Such debate is essential and long overdue.

There is no doubt that patients require more information than they have at present regarding services offered in general practice. Since the outcomes and quality data covers most aspects of general practice, everything from clinical outcomes through practice organisation to patients' views, the information they receive must of necessity be drawn from some of these areas.

The practice leaflet describing when you can't see your doctor and when not to call him/her gives no useful information to prospective or current patients.

Health minister John Hutton did not suggest he had any intention of publishing league tables of quality data. What he did say was in his view the Freedom of Information Act would probably require disclosure.

But I do not believe there is any clarity around the legal extent of necessary disclosure. In small practices and small communities, for instance, publishing raw data could well lead to identification of individuals which would breach the Data Protection Act.

What we require is a constructive and informed debate on what information patients require, what can be legally and reasonably provided and how it is best presented.

It is too early to start manning the barricades.

Dr Peter Smith

National Association for Primary Care

London

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