BMA demands QOF suspension in England to ease winter pressure

GP leaders in England have called for the suspension of QOF targets to ease winter pressure, as ministers in Wales agreed to freeze most of the framework for the second year running.

The call for QOF suspension in England follows a warning last week that flu cases had spiked, with hospitalisations reaching 2.5 times the level they were at this time last year.

Flu cases in general practice remain at low levels, but are rising sharply, with fears that the UK is set to experience a heavy flu season, after Australia underwent one of its most deadly on record. France, meanwhile, has declared that flu has reached epidemic levels across the entire country.

GPC chair Dr Richard Vautrey told GPonline: 'We have asked NHS England to suspend QOF in view of the serious workload pressures practices are under. GPs in Wales welcomed the sensible action taken by their administration to suspend QOF last year and I’m sure they will appreciate similar steps this year.

'NHS England has acted to support hospitals but we’ve yet to see similar action to support general practice.'

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GP leaders have warned that pressure on general practice is rising fast not only because of early signs that flu levels are rising, but after the decision announced last week to cancel all NHS elective care until the end of January to ease pressure on hospitals. Dr Vautrey said last week that the move would leave GP practices coping with repeat appointments by patients anxious or in discomfort because hospital treatment had been cancelled, on top of seasonal rises in illness.

Reacting to the suspension of QOF in Wales, GPC Wales chair Dr Charlotte Jones said: 'I am pleased to see the Welsh government take this action and am fully supportive of it. GPC Wales has put forward a number additional solutions that we feel will further alleviate pressure on GP teams.'

The majority of QOF targets are expected to be stopped in Wales, in a repeat of measures taken in January 2017. Under the agreement last winter, practices were paid for all indicators until the end of March based on achievement in the previous financial year. Only flu vaccination and joint working targets remained in effect, although GPs were able to opt in to targets if they wanted to improve their scores.

In England, GPC leaders were left frustrated last winter by NHS bosses' refusal to suspend the QOF despite high pressure on primary care. In Leeds - where GPC chair Dr Vautrey works - a locally-agreed suspension was blocked after an intervention by national NHS officials.

An NHS England spokesman reiterated that the health service was 'looking into a system that will take over from QOF', but declined to comment 'at this stage' on whether it would consider suspending targets to ease winter pressure.

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