Johnson backs extra QOF smoking targets

GPs' pay could be linked to their success in getting patients to quit smoking.

Health secretary Alan Johnson told the health select committee that adding smoking cessation rates to the quality framework was 'certainly something we are looking at'.

At present, practices earn points simply for recording whether or not patients smoke.

But during an evidence session on health inequalities, committee chairman and Labour MP for Rother Valley Kevin Barron asked whether rates of referral to specialist stop-smoking services should be added to the framework.

'It does seem extraordinary, when smoking is the number one determinant of health inequalities, that the quality framework ends at the recording and not taking action,' he said.

The health secretary replied that this was a 'damn good point', and added: 'We are looking at that specifically in our discussions next year.'

Mr Johnson said contract changes agreed last month would help redirect funding to deprived areas. He praised plans to weight quality pay according to raw prevalence, and steps to eliminate the MPIG.

Mr Johnson also defended the government against accusations that allowing patients to top up NHS care, as proposed by national clinical director for cancer Mike Richards this month, would increase inequality.

Asked if moving to a situation in which some patients could afford drugs and others could not would increase inequality, he said the status quo was unfair.

'Had we done nothing there would still be patients able to buy a drug, but having their NHS care withdrawn.

'If we had to continue this cruel system of withdrawing care from someone who is terminally ill as part of an effort to tackle inequalities, I would question whether we were tackling the right problem,' Mr Johnson added.

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