Exclusive: GPs will not have to publish practice quality accounts for the foreseeable future, after the Government decided to kick the policy into the long grass to prevent a clash with CQC registration.
The Government had planned to make it a requirement for all practices to submit annual reports to be published on NHS Choices, to allow the public to assess the quality of service they provide.
A Department of Health estimate in 2010 suggested producing the accounts could be extremely costly, with the annual cost to providers for collating patient safety, experience and outcomes data put at between £14,000 and £22,000.
But ministers have now decided to delay the rollout in primary care and make the process voluntary for GPs until further notice, because of the administrative workload already facing practices preparing for CQC registration next April.
It is the second time in as many years that the rollout has been postponed. Quality accounts in general practice were originally scheduled to begin in April 2011, but were delayed after a pilot study found wide variation in the quality and format of accounts, and that many GP practices struggled to produce one because of the administrative burden.
The policy is already a requirement for acute, mental health and ambulance trusts, and learning disability NHS services.
A DH spokesperson said: ‘Quality accounts are essential to the improvement of services and modernisation of the NHS, and provide the public with information about the quality of services they should expect to receive. We are continuing to evaluate the potential for extending quality accounts to primary care – at the moment we encourage GPs to produce them voluntarily.’
‘We plan to extend quality account requirements to GPs. However in light of wider changes affecting primary care, such as CQC registration, the timing of this is under review. CQC registration will provide a foundation for quality improvement that quality accounts can build on.’
Dr Kamal Sidhu, a GP in Peterlee, County Durham,welcomed the announcement: ‘I hope the Government will go a step further to scrap this ‘unnecessary’ idea that only adds another layer of bureaucracy. General practice is already burdened with enough paperwork and tick boxes to actually achieve the intentions behind the idea.’
But Dr Steve Kell, a GP in Worksop, Nottinghamshire, whose practice has been voluntarily piloting quality accounts, said the scheme had benefits. ‘We have been one of the pilot sites and have found it useful in terms of monitoring,’ he said.
What are quality accounts?
– First proposed in the Darzi review in 2008, and later backed by the coalition, quality accounts are annual reports about the quality of services provided by an NHS healthcare service, published by providers and made available to the public.
– Their primary purpose, according to DH, is to ‘spur boards and leaders of healthcare organisations to assess quality across the entire range of their healthcare services, with an eye to continuous quality improvement.’
– Quality accounts currently cover all providers of acute, mental health, ambulance and learning disability NHS services.
Source: Department of Health