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DH slams brakes on ‘traffic light’ ratings plan after GP opposition

Exclusive: The Department of Health has shelved plans to develop a traffic light ratings system for general practice after GP leaders raised concerns that the scheme would be unworkable, Pulse has learned.

After consulting on plans to develop a ‘traffic light’ rating system that could have seen practices given a red, green or amber rating for a whole swathe of data, the DH decided the scheme would be unwise given the current strain on general practice and the risk that it could lead to GPs playing the system and simply referring more, Pulse understands.

The move was part of Jeremy Hunt’s ‘transparency agenda’ which has already seen him announce proposals to ‘name and shame’ GPs who fail to refer enough cancer cases by publishing a ‘red rating’ on the NHS Choices website.

And in July the DH announced that it was working up plans for a new website – which will be separate to the existing NHS Choices website – to compare GP practices against one another to drive up standards. This followed reports in the Mail on Sunday that the DH site could include ‘traffic light’ ratings for practices, which would see patients with more elderly patients admitted to hospital given a red rating.

However talks with GP bodies had highlighted concerns that the scheme could disadvantage GPs in deprived areas, or lead to GPs playing the system and simply referring more, sources told Pulse. While the DH had also acknowledged that GP ratings weren’t directly comparable to other parts of the NHS – for example the recent publication of surgeons’ mortality data for surgeons, they said.

Where data on surgeon’s mortality rates looked at a specific, regularly repeated task, this couldn’t be translated to the complex conditions and social factors GPs routinely manage, they said.

Both sources said that they expected wider drives towards publishing data about general practice in future, and said GPs should involve themselves in the discussion of how this is developed.

Dr Richard Vautrey, deputy chair of the GPC, said although he hadn’t been told about the DH rowing back on plans for GP ratings, he said the GPC had had discussions about the scheme, highlighting the ‘significant flaws’ that implementing such a system would entail.

He told Pulse: ‘I do know that the department has been listening to the concerns of GPC and others about the significant flaws in the system that would occur if they tried to do this.’

‘We’ve been highlighting the complexity and the diverse outcomes and the way that this would misrepresent what practices do, and wouldn’t be helpful to patients making an informed decision, in any way.’

‘So I think they have heard that, and I would hope that they are thinking again about what an ill-thought through proposal this would be.’

The Department of Health was approached for comment, but had not responded at time of publication.

This story was edited on 21 August to clarify that the Mail on Sunday, rather than the Daily Mail, initially reported the plans to traffic light GPs.