Editorial: Flawed patient survey will cost practices dear

GP income is under assault from all sides. Figures released last week showed GMS and PMS GP income was down 2.6 per cent and 1.5 per cent respectively in 2006/7.

Results for 2007/8 are likely to show an even greater drop as the pay freeze really takes hold.

If this was not bad enough, some practices stand to lose thousands in QOF pay because of this year's heavily criticised patient survey.

GPs are working harder than ever, yet the DoH seems intent on cutting their pay, rather than rewarding their achievements.

Practices in England will have received details of how they fared under this year's survey. The figures will not be publicly available until June, but the early indication is that, while the survey will reveal high satisfaction with access, some GPs will not be paid for achieving this.

The problem appears to stem from a lack of response. In Scotland, where the results have been published, this has had a devastating impact on some practices.

One practice in Lanarkshire could lose nearly £16,000 because of the views of just 51 patients (0.28 per cent of the practice's list). Meanwhile, GPs who achieved near-perfect scores in previous practice-based surveys will see their income cut because of few responses to the postal questionnaire.

For GPs in England and Northern Ireland, response levels are likely to be even worse because the access questions are part of a much longer survey.

For some practices, to have their pay based on such statistically insignificant results is ridiculous - particularly when, in most cases, it is likely that the majority of patients are happy with access.

It is also grossly unfair if any practice loses out because of a poorly designed, or overly complicated survey that not enough patients wanted to complete. This is hardly the practices' fault, but they face being penalised.

Time and again GPs have met and outperformed on targets (including access), consistently delivering high quality care. Yet they see a drop in income. This is not right, and it is hard to imagine such a situation occurring in any other profession.

More opinion online

Read more opinion from the GP editorial team in the editor's blog at www.healthcarerepublic.com/blogs. This is what the team had to say this week

  • "GP income figures reveal division Take one look at the latest income figures for general practice and it's easy to see why the government is so confident in its manipulation of the profession."
  • "MPs' expense scandal rumbles on Health minister Ben Bradshaw has blogged about his views on the scandal. It's interesting to read his argument, because the unfairness of tarnishing the many with the sins of the few appears to have bothered him little in the past when it came to GPs."

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