DoH stalls over suspension of QOF

Exclusive - GPs call for immediate halt to QOF work in hotspots as flu helpline opens.

The DoH is stalling on suspending the QOF despite renewed calls from GPs to ease their workload, as the surge in swine flu cases continues.

GP leaders said the interim flu helpline - launching this week in England - would do little to relieve pressure on GPs.

The comments came as a GP poll revealed that two-thirds of GPs believe the QOF should be shut down in flu hotspots.

Of 246 GPs who responded to the poll, almost half think it is inevitable that the QOF will be suspended nationally at some point.

Meanwhile, 65 per cent think that a swine flu vaccination campaign should go ahead, but only 27 per cent said they had the resources to deliver this.

Ian Dalton, England's director for flu resilience, this week told GP the QOF would not be suspended 'at this stage'.

'The flu line should reduce pressure so it is less likely the QOF will be suspended,' Mr Dalton said.

The flu line will not yet be launched in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland because the impact of the virus is not as widespread as in England.

At a briefing in London last week, CMO for England Sir Liam Donaldson said the flu line had been rolled out because many practices were spending the majority of their time dealing with phone calls from patients.

'GPs in hotspots have been completely overwhelmed. The RCGP has been pressing us to switch on these arrangements,' said Sir Liam.

The interim flu line will be staffed by 2,000 employees using a clinical algorithm developed by the BMA to diagnose swine flu and decide which patients need antivirals.

GPC deputy chairman Dr Richard Vautrey said: 'We've supported the principle of a flu line during planning for a pandemic over the past few years.

'It's helpful but I don't think it will take the pressure off GPs in any shape or form.'

Dr Vautrey said that the GPC was still calling for the QOF to be suspended. But he said questions remained over whether to suspend it nationally or locally.

'There is a variety of different possibilities and we are looking at all types to make it watertight. We are very close.'

Mr Dalton added that QOF suspension would be kept under review.

RCGP pandemic lead Dr Maureen Baker said QOF suspension was likely to be linked to the DoH's 'pressure rating' system.

sanjay.tanday@haymarket.com

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