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QOF opt-out for Leeds GPs ‘not possible’, says NHS England chief

The head of NHS England has said it is not legal for practices in Leeds to drop QOF for the rest of the financial year.

Speaking at a board meeting today, chief executive Simon Stevens said that, based on legal advice, suspending QOF for the rest of year ‘would not be possible’.

He added that adjusting QOF payments 10 months into the year would be ‘very unfair’. 

GP practices in Leeds said last week that their local LMC and three CCGs had agreed to drop 80% of QOF requirements to free up ‘headroom and clinical capacity’.

But at today’s meeting, Mr Stevens said the move ‘wouldn’t actually create a lot of extra headroom’.

Mr Steven’s told other board members: ‘There was a suggestion that individual CCGs might choose to change the national contract with respect of QOF at the back end of this year in Leeds. 

‘Legal advice is clear that that would not be possible and in fact is not the approach that we’re going to be taking given that a lot of practices have said to us that 10 months into the year messing around with the QOF payments would be very unfair and wouldn’t actually create a lot of extra headroom for the other pressures that they’re facing.’

Leeds LMC and CCGs told GPs that after dropping the QOF requirements they would be paid according to their achievement in 2016/17 or 2015/16, depending on which is higher.

Mr Stevens has previously said that QOF has ‘reached the end of its useful life’, with NHS England working on a replacement to be launched in 2018/19.

Dr Richard Vautrey, Leeds LMC medical secretary and deputy chair of GPC, said the comments were ‘surprising’, considering NHS England gave permission in 2014 to areas in the South West ‘to do what Wales, Northern Ireland and Leeds want to do to recognise the acute pressures on their practices’.

He added that at the time, NHS England was supportive of these changes.

He said: ‘It seems that there is one rule for their approach to relaxing routine work done in hospitals and quite another for general practices who are under similar if not greater workload pressures.

‘Suspending QOF won’t solve practices’ workload pressures but will make a tangible difference, sends an important signal that NHS England and CCGs understand and recognise these pressures and has been widely welcomed by the practices in the areas where it has been suggested.’

He added that the LMC will look into the legal issues that Mr Stevens raised and ‘consider the implications’.

It comes as earlier this week the 2017/18 GP contract deal was agreed with no changes to QOF.