GP swine flu pay protection at risk

Half of practices yet to 'buddy up', threatening their QOF income protection.

Dr John Canning: Buddying up is how practices protect themselves
Dr John Canning: Buddying up is how practices protect themselves

Half of GPs could lose thousands of pounds because primary care organisations (PCOs) have failed to promote 'buddying up' between practices in preparation for a second wave of swine flu.

Only 49 per cent of practices have buddied up with another practice, a GP poll of 216 UK GPs reveals.

But failure to buddy up could mean practices miss out on income protection if the QOF - which generates around a third of GP income - is suspended because of the pandemic.

Practices will also miss out on funding to cover the cost of working with another practice.

The DoH said last month that practices in England that buddy up will be paid £1,250 per week per 1,000 patients if they are forced to share resources and staff in a pandemic.

BMA guidance, meanwhile, says that 'failure to buddy up with other practices is likely to be viewed as a failure to comply with the terms of the "Costing methodology for GMS practice payments during an influenza pandemic" deal between the BMA and NHS Employers'.

How to buddy up

- Identify neighbouring practices for buddying-up group.

- Agree how often group will meet before and during pandemic.

- Identify existing capacity, responsibilies and constraints that each practice has so resources can be pooled.

- Identify which IT systems are used in the buddy group and discuss compatibility.

Source: RCGP/BMA Preparing for Pandemic Influenza Guidance 2008.

Sir Liam Donaldson, the CMO for England, has predicted that a second, more serious wave of swine flu is likely to hit the UK this autumn in the traditional flu season, which could force the QOF to be suspended.

Ian Dalton, England's director of NHS flu resilience, told GP that it was not too late for practices to buddy up and called on the NHS to offer practices more support.

GPC deputy chairman Dr Richard Vautrey agreed that practices need greater assistance to link up.

'A lack of support from PCTs is to blame for the large number of practices who have yet to buddy up,' he said.

'All practices should have plans in place to buddy up. It might make all the difference when they are put under pressure.'

Dr John Canning, secretary of Cleveland LMC, which piloted the buddying-up system, said: 'Buddying up is one means whereby practices can protect themselves both financially and professionally during a pandemic.'

Meanwhile, 74 per cent of GPs said changes to the QOF that take effect from next year should be delayed until 2011 to let them focus on swine flu.

'It is not sensible to be making changes to the QOF when GPs should be focusing on swine flu,' said Dr Vautrey.

Ongoing concerns over a lack of fridge space to store both the swine flu and seasonal flu jabs have still to be addressed with only 23 per cent of GPs stating that their practice has the capacity to store both types of vaccine.

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