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GPs face publication of ‘potentially damaging’ league tables

Exclusive GP leaders have warned against the creation of a new set of practice ‘league tables' as the NHS prepares to publish a new tranche of surgery performance data.

The GP Extraction Service will collect and publish prescribing and referral data from all NHS GP practices in England from next September, and will also be used to support GP payment systems as part of a replacement for the QMAS payment system which underpins the QOF.

The service will for the first time provide access nationally to practice-level clinical data, with the data covered yet to be agreed with the RCGP and GPC.

Dr Mark Davies, medical director of the NHS Information Centre and a GP in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire, said the launch would be a ‘great opportunity for GPs to benchmark their clinical behaviour against their peers'.

He said that a practice benchmarking pilot in Wanstead, east London, which allowed GPs to compare prescribing, referral and other clinical information had improved performance and reduced costs.

Dr Mo Dewji, the Department of Health's national primary care clinical QIPP lead and a GP in Milton Keynes, said that publishing such data was a good way of addressing ‘unacceptable variations of care'.

He told the Healthcare Efficiency Through Technology Expo in London this week: ‘We have to be open and honest about our own performance as GPs: that is the only way to shift quality.'

‘A 2% move in the overall curve of general practice produces outcome improvements of 10-15% so it is vital we make that move. GP practice is about everything from before birth to death, from erection to resurrection if you like and we have to be measuring and comparing our performance in all areas of care.'

Dr Richard Vautrey, GPC deputy chair, said the GPC had worked closely with the NHS Information Centre on the development of the GP Extraction Service, and that it had the potential to improve the handling of data requests.

But he added: ‘GPs already compare prescribing and referral data with their peers as part of the QOF changes this year. They do so though understanding the local context of different practices and understanding the complexity of the data. They would not want to see meaningless and potentially damaging league tables created.'