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At the heart of general practice since 1960

Researchers claim patient survey is 'reliable'

By Gareth Iacobucci

The GP Patient Survey is a reliable and valid way of providing financial incentives to GPs, researchers have claimed.

A study published by the BMJ.com suggests there is little evidence to support concerns that the survey has led to unfair payments to practices.

The findings follow the news that GP performance under QOF has fallen, as the results of the controversial survey hit practice income.

The GPC has blamed the dip largely on the poor uptake rate for the patient surveys, but the latest study throws doubt on this claim, reporting little evidence that poor response rates would result in any ‘systematic disadvantage' to practices.

A team of researchers led by Professor Martin Roland at the University of Cambridge and Professor John Campbell at Peninsula Medical School assessed the robustness of patient responses to the survey, and reported that the two questions triggering payments to GPs were ‘reliable measures of practice performance'.

In total, it found that 97% of practices achieved the 90% threshold for reliability for questions PE7 and PE8. For the 3% of practices with insufficient responses needed to meet this threshold, the authors suggest that larger numbers of patients from these practices should be sampled in future rounds of the survey.

However, the study maintains that the current procedure led to ‘reliable and valid survey estimates of performance at the practice level on the pay for performance items which we examined'.

It adds: ‘Furthermore, there is little evidence to support the concern of some general practitioners that low response rates and selective non-response bias have led to systematic unfairness in payments attached to questionnaire scores.'

However, the researchers acknowledge that the survey and potential compensation will need refinement if it is gain the support of the profession

The authors conclude: ‘Additional refinements of the measurement or compensation process and ongoing dialogue with practising doctors will be essential if the survey is to play an important role in improving in patient experience in the UK.'

Dr Laurence Buckman, GPC chair, said practices with good performance had lost out because the government ‘decided to move the goalposts'.

He said: ‘It seems unfair that practices with good results have been penalised simply because the government decided to move the goalposts. For those practices that do need to improve, the loss of funding is likely to make it harder for them.

‘We agree with the authors of this report that surveys will only prompt real improvement if they are well regarded by the profession, and this one, unfortunately, is not. If this survey is to continue we would urge the Government to work much more closely with the profession.'

Patient Survey

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