This site is intended for health professionals only

GP leaders warn of ‘adverse consequences’ from Government plans to publish GP data

Government plans to increase transparency by publishing GP prescribing and performance data could backfire and drive up primary care costs, senior GPs have warned.

Ministers want to make public a huge tranche of general practice information as part of plans to increase transparency in Government and encourage competition, efficiency and innovation in primary care, and have launched a consultation today on their plans to give the public access to GP performance data, including prescribing rates and QOF achievement.

The consultation details how GPs, as ‘public service providers' will be held to account, and how the Government can ‘stimulate enterprise and market making in the use of open data'.

In one example cited in the consultation document, a kite marking accreditation scheme recognised the achievement of ‘professional standards' in 14 GP practices in Barnsley and led to 4,500 patients switching practices in three years.

The document also argues that currently 'choice of provider is illusory' and that by giving patients direct access to their own records will 'drive data quality since patients will be able to check the quality of data held about them.'

Cabinet minister Francis Maude MP said: ‘We want to embed this approach throughout the public service and we want to hear from people about how they think we should do this.'

‘It is an incredibly brave step for any Government to become this open, but this is the approach we want to take in order to create public accountability and efficiency in our services and to drive economic and social growth.

But GPC deputy chair Dr Richard Vautrey said that making GP information on prescribing rates freely available could end up increasing patient demand for expensive branded medicines.

He said: ‘In theory transparency is a good thing but without care this could have unforeseen adverse consequences. For example GPs are being encouraged to save money by prescribing generic medicines, but if patients decide they want the branded medicine and go to the practices, they know from the new data, that prescribe them you could produce pressure that will actually drive up costs.'

The BMA is warning that without proper context and understanding data relating to the work of GPs may not deliver real benefits to patients.

GPC chair Dr Laurence Buckman warned without appropriate context publishing information would lead to simplistic and misleading league tables.

‘Greater transparency can drive up clinical standards and we believe it is important that patients have access to good quality information.'

But he added: ‘Measuring health outcomes is a very complex area and so the Government will need to work closely with the profession to ensure that it actually brings benefit to patients and the NHS.'


Examples of GP ‘open data' in the online consultation

  • Around 60% of GP practices in the UK work with the same software vendor, EMIS which, in collaboration with PAERS, has developed a platform for providing patients with access to their own electronic GP records, securely, for free. Patients access their records directly through the PAERS patient portal.
  • NHS Devon's new telephone referral service (DART) has received continuous online feedback from patients since it launched in summer 2010, and has to date logged 11 improvements to both technical and administrative systems as a result.
  • A primary care addiction service in Sheffield installed an electronic waiting time display after receiving repeated online feedback from users that late running clinics were causing stress and hostility between users and staff. Once waiting time information was routinely available, relationships improved significantly.