BMA condemns 'misleading' Healthcare Commission report

The British Medical Association (BMA) has condemned as 'misleading' the Healthcare Commission's suggestion that up to 600 errors occur daily in primary care.

GP writing a prescription (Photograph: J H Lancy/HML)

It says that the Healthcare Commission report 'State of Healthcare 2008' includes the figures which are based on a 2002 paper looking at studies in the US, Australia and the Netherlands.

BMA chairman Dr Hamish Meldrum said: ‘The overall picture in this report is of major improvements in the standards of care. We applaud the efforts of NHS staff in reducing the amount of time patients have to wait, and improving the quality of care they receive.

‘Unfortunately, the report contains the misleading suggestion that up to 600 errors occur in primary care a day. This is based on data which was mainly gathered outside the UK, and identified that medical error occurs between 5 and 80 times per 100,000 consultations.'

The report also found that GPs have had to work harder to keep up with patient demands.

It found that, since 1997, the number of GPs per head in England have increased by 14% - from 57.6 per 100,000 people to 65.7 last year.

But over the same period, the number of consultations per patient has increased by 37% - from 4.0 in 1998 to 5.4 last year.

The number of consultations per GP has thus had to increase.

The Healthcare Commission found that the NHS has made significant strides over the last decade, with both waiting lists and premature deaths tumbling.

It found that 74% of patients are completely satisfied with their GP practice, and 87% can see a GP within 48 hours. It also praised the quality framework for substantially narrowing the gap in practice performance between affluent and deprived areas.

But the report also found a quarter of patients say they have been put off visiting a GP by inconvenient opening times. And more than half - 55% - complained that phone lines were often busy.

Anna Walker, the regulator's Chief Executive, warned that from 2010 practices would be more tightly regulated by the new Care Quality Commission, to put pressure on the rump of poor performers.

‘I believe that is absolutely right, because 85% of care is done by GPs. But we do need to find a regulatory system that's not onerous,' she said.

She added that regulation would likely involve closer examination of patient complains, and visits to poor performers, to ensure they were complying with national treatment guidelines.

Professor Steve Field, chair of the RCGP, said that the vast majority of GPs were working  harder than ever.

'Given the number of consultations GPs do, it's remarkable there are so few errors.'

He noted that the report also said that one in 10 hospital patients will suffer harm as a result of their admission.

'This is why we support the DoH view that more care should be provided in primary care', he added.

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