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PBC data howlers are holding back GPs

In her first editor's blog, Susan McNulty, new editor of Practical Commissioning, admits to a number crunching clanger. But it was nowhere near as bad as some being committed in the NHS that are frustrating GPs.

In her first editor's blog, Susan McNulty, new editor of Practical Commissioning, admits to a number crunching clanger. But it was nowhere near as bad as some being committed in the NHS that are frustrating GPs.

‘ I shouldn't say it, but at the moment I'm in the ludicrous position of not knowing exactly what I buy for patients.' A PCT Chief Executive1

I've only been in the Practical Commissioning editor's hot seat for four weeks now, but it is already very clear to me that poor quality data is the bug-bear of GPs, PCT chief execs and pretty much everyone involved in PBC.

And it's easy to see why. If you're a GP cluster trying to put together a business plan and make your case that the PCT should let you commission your own vasectomy service (it's out there) because it will shave off x amount off their budget, it becomes a non-starter if you can't find out what the current service costs.

You do wonder about the quality of the data in the NHS. My supermarket knows where I live, what I buy, in what sizes and has computers that send their managers an information sheet advising what colour has automatically been ordered to re-fill the shelves.

Our columnist Dr Peter Weaver wrote last year that his PCT had counted pregnancies as lasting 12 months.

Think of the possibilities though for when the NHS does get its data together. As a patient I'm quite excited. Invite me to a patient feedback type meeting and I have to be honest and say I'd sooner cut Alan Johnson's toe nails.

Start talking to me about how much my personal healthcare budget is for the year, how much I've spent so far, what cash-back I'm entitled to for all that hard work I do at the gym and suddenly I'm interested.

Not that you'd want me to be doing the number crunching after the clanger I dropped in my first week.

Diabetes clinical champion, Dr Rebecca Pryse, submitted a brilliant article on the work she's been doing in Buckinghamshire and said the impetus for the project was the £6,323,401 spent on the care of diabetes patients in 2005/6.

Quick email to Rebecca asking where the decimal point should go in that figure. No decimal point came back the reply email - more than £6 million was spent on diabetes patients alone by her PCT in one year.

Data suddenly seems a very serious matter.

Susan McNulty

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