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Patient survey to continue to set GP pay

By Gareth Iacobucci

Exclusive: GPs' pay will continue to be linked to the controversial GP patient survey for at least the next year, the Government has revealed.

Pulse recently reported that the Government plans to axe the survey as part of a widespread purge of NHS targets, and replace it with a network of local health watchdogs to monitor practice performance.

But despite plans to widen the focus from access to include treatment outcomes and continuity of care, the Department of Health has told Pulse that the survey will continue in its current guise for at least another 12 months - after which its contract with Ipsos MORI expires - amid fears ministers may wish to use it as a 'bargaining chip' in future negotiations with the GPC.

The survey has served as a key plank of the Department of Health's GP access drive, with more than £20m spent on it in the past two years.

But GP leaders have vociferously called for it to be scrapped, after practices across the UK lost tens of millions of pounds despite high overall satisfaction rates, due to their performance on the PE7 and PE8 patient experience QOF indicators which link GP pay to the availability of 48 hour access and the ability to book in advance.

A Department of Health spokesman told Pulse: ‘The GP patient survey is carrying on as it is for the time being. The revised Operating Framework for the NHS in England 2010/11 indicated that targets relating to access to primary care will no longer be performance managed - the GP Patient Survey continues to validate the QOF indicators on access. The survey also continues to measure more elements of patient experience of GP services than access alone.'

‘Ipsos MORI currently holds the contract for the GP Patient Survey. The current contract runs to the end of the financial year.'

Dr Peter Swinyard, chair of the Family Doctor Association and a GP in Swindon, said he suspected that the DH may hold off on scrapping the patient survey to use it as a lever in future talks with GP negotiators.

He said: ‘The politics of it might suggest the DH is trying to retain some bargaining chips to negotiate with the GPC. It may be they need something to say, "we'll scrap the patient survey if you do this".'

In Scotland, where the future of the GP access survey is unclear, the BMA said it was currently holding discussions with the Scottish Government to discuss its wish to see GPs with poor access scores being financially supported rather than penalised.

This follows yesterday's publication of the full results from this year's Scottish survey, where some practices are still set to be hit financially, despite GPs performing better overall than last year on the key access questions linked to QOF pay.

The controversial GP patient survey will continue to determine QOF pay for the time being The controversial GP patient survey will continue to determine QOF pay for the time being