Telehealth DES plans are 'political interference', warns GPC

The GPC has criticised DH plans to pay practices to offer telehealth devices to patients from 2013 under a new set of directed enhanced services (DESs) funded by money stripped from the QOF.

DH: telehealth plans are political interference, GPs say

A new remote care monitoring DES proposed for the 2013/14 GP contract would see practices establish local agreements to introduce remote monitoring devices such as those used in telehealth.

The DH believes the move would 'reduce unnecessary patient attendances at the practice, which will benefit both practices and patients'.

But the GPC attacked the plans as being politically motivated 'interference' in the GP contract.

The DH wants practices to roll out the remote care DES to one condition such as hyperthyroidism in 2013/14, expanding to other disease areas in future contract years.

The department has also proposed new DESs for risk profiling and care management, case finding for patients with dementia, and improving online patient access. The new DESs will be funded by £120m stripped from the organisational domain of the QOF, which is to be scrapped under the proposed contract changes.

GPC negotiator Dr Chaand Nagpaul said the introduction of telehealth DESs and other enhanced services amounted to 'political interference' in the GP contract. 'The government promised that its reforms would remove political interference in the NHS. Yet what we are seeing is the imposition of political will over the evidence base,' he said.

'The government's own Whole System Demonstrator project was clearly equivocal on the cost benefit. The authors of the study themselves said the cost of telehealth was £80,000 per quality-adjusted life year (QALY), much higher than for NICE-approved interventions.

'It is clear the government is forging ahead with political ideology rather than looking at the most appropriate use of time and resources.'

He added: 'At a time of austerity we need to be sure... we are spending money where there is absolute evidence of benefit. It's extremely disappointing and frustrating. We question the use of the public purse in this way.'

The NHS Commissioning Board will develop a more detailed specification for the planned DESs over the coming months.

The DH also announced that DESs for extended hours, patient participation, alcohol-related risk reduction and learning disabilities should all continue for at least one more year.

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