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GP practices ‘in difficulty’ in NI can ask for QOF freeze

by Emma Wilkinson
2 November 2022

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Practices in Northern Ireland that are ‘in difficulty’ will have the option of asking for a freeze to QOF reporting, the BMA’s GP committee has confirmed.

But they have urged the Department of Health in Northern Ireland to keep this under review to return to a workforce-wide suspension of QOF if needed as happened during the pandemic.

It follows the reporting of QOF data for 2021/22 which showed practices had achieved highly even under ‘exceptionally difficult circumstances’, the NI GPC said.

Figures show that despite an ongoing suspension of QOF reporting to ease pressure on practices in the Covid-19 pandemic, the average achievement in Northern Ireland was 349.5 of the 547 points available (63. 9%). 

The average achievement rate for Local Commissioning Groups (LCG) ranged from 58.3% in the Belfast LCG to 67.7% in the Southern LCG, the NI Department of Health said.

Achievement on clinical points was 53%, public health 70.5%, patient experience 92.4% and records and systems 96.9%.

Dr Alan Stout, NI GPC chair, said on Friday: ‘The publication of these figures today clearly shows that even in exceptionally difficult circumstances during a pandemic, and with a contract freeze when practices were rightly not asked to chase these targets, they have still achieved very highly and prioritised what is clinically important for patients.

‘This should be a learning point going forwards. Practices are currently being asked to chase all of these targets again.

‘The monitoring and recording of these figures takes up a disproportionate amount of practice time, taking staff away from more important jobs and reducing the amount of time where they could be engaged in more meaningful work that is more centred on patient access.’

He added: ‘We are pleased that the Department are going to offer practices in difficulty the option to ask for a freeze, and we would urge them to keep this under constant review and be prepared to implement a workforce-wide freeze if necessary.’

In September, a £5.5m package of support measures was announced to help ease the pressures facing general practice in Northern Ireland.

Health minister Robin Swann said £1m of the funding would go to a new Attract, Recruit, Retain scheme to help attract GPs in hard-to-recruit areas.

Another £680,000 was earmarked to boost the support team for GP practices who are experiencing difficulties, he said.

And it includes £3m to support practices across Northern Ireland through the winter to resource additional in-hours and out of hours sessions.

A version of this story was first published on our sister title Pulse.