DoH plans rapid transfer of patients between GPs

The DoH has warned PCTs in England to brace themselves for the possibility of a mass migration of patients when the results of its controversial access survey are published this month.

PCTs have been told to be ready to allow patients to switch practices quickly by developing rapid records-transfer systems.

PCTs are also advised to consider setting up a walk-in centre if necessary to meet patients’ demand for out-of-hours healthcare.

PCTs need to be ready to facilitate ‘patients wanting to change registration to practices with higher satisfaction rates’, the DoH has warned in its GP patient survey guidance.

The DoH has also warned PCTs to expect a media backlash and advised them to have a communications plan in place.

The survey, sharply criticised by the GPC for including ‘leading questions’ that clashed with the GMS contract, achieved a 40 per cent response rate (GP, 1 December 2006).

GPC chairman Dr Hamish Meldrum said: ‘The questions are biased in such a way that the results are not meaningful.

‘We don’t think that they will be a fair reflection of the services practices provide. I hope people won’t be tempted to switch practices on the basis of this. They may be basing decisions on false assumptions and dubious evidence.’

Dr Mike Dixon, chairman of the NHS Alliance, said that even one or two patients asking to change practice would concentrate GPs’ minds.

‘For a lot of GPs, this will be a first taste of what patient power, given information, can lead to,’ he said. But he added that suggesting neighbouring walk-in centres was ‘the equivalent of a nuclear deterrent’.

GPs facing patients dissatisfied with their opening times would be better advised to group together to deliver extended hours, he said.

PCTs will use the results to assess whether the 2006/7 directed enhanced service for access targets were met. Payments worth £12,000 to the average practice are due in practices’ first-quarter payments for 2007/8.

Dr Dixon said the survey results were unlikely to lead to a mass walk-out by patients.

‘They leave on the basis of what they see, touch and feel, and that doesn’t change on the basis of some survey,’ he added.

But the outcomes would stimulate debate in practices that did not achieve a good outcome, he said.

A DoH spokeswoman said: ‘It is only right that we prepare SHAs and PCTs so they are best placed to deal with interest when the results are published.

‘This does not pre-empt the results. We are simply outlining possible issues that PCTs may need to consider.’

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