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It’s sad if PCTs are to play the spying game

6 April 2010

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Consultant Editor

Today I saw sunshine, possibly for the first time this year: a sign, hopefully, that spring is on its way. About time too, as the winter has been long and drawn out. Being based in the Midlands, I’m grateful not to have experienced the worst of the weather, but this winter has still felt rather relentless, exacerbated of course by a rather pointless (by the time we got to it) swine-flu campaign.

I wonder what the coming months have to offer? We begin with the roll-out of the summary care record, sure to be a big hit. More work with no added resources. I have been informed that the national opt-out rate in pilot sites is running at 0.59%; I wonder if that will remain consistent once the programme really gets underway?

We then have the general election to look forward to, when every party will be setting out their pitch and using the NHS as their prime marketing tool.

Each newly elected government begins its first term with the same optimism and enthusiasm, professing to have learned lessons from previous failures and telling us that, this time, they will get it right and deliver an NHS to be proud of.

I actually believe we do have an NHS to be proud of already, but it would be all the better if civil servants and politicians stopped tinkering with it. Wouldn’t it be great if MPs worked within a performance framework as we do, underpinned by a constituent’s survey? I wonder how many quality points they would receive – just imagine the appeals!

Spies and subterfuge
On the subject of surveys, I was shocked to read in the medical press that NHS Heart of Birmingham is taking part in a pilot project to crack down on practices in order to improve their patient survey results.(1) The project allegedly involves “undercover” tactics such as video surveillance and secret tape recordings to provide evidence of poor practice. Apparently this is an initiative devised by a US management consultancy.

Wow, what next we ask? While I very much accept there are things we could do better in primary care, I’m not sure the employment of these tactics is quite the right way to go – unless there is a hidden agenda, of course.

What a pity that the money used to establish this piece of work couldn’t have been used to support those practices that need to make improvements. After all, aren’t our primary care trusts supposed to be responsible for assessing the performance of our practices and ensuring that any anomalies identified are actioned? Isn’t that a big part of what they do?

In search of excellence
Perhaps the same techniques could be considered to identify excellence in practice too, or perhaps we should leave that to the Management in Practice Awards. Yes, with the onset of spring it’s that time of year again when we ask you to come forward with your entries.

Some changes to the MiP Awards categories have been made this year to recognise the diversity of excellence in general practice and primary care. The 2010 categories are: Commissioning, Patient Care, Design and Facilities, IT, Practice Team of the Year and Practice Manager of the Year [click here to find out more].

Applying this year is even easier, as entrants need only submit a short online form in a question and answer format. So please don’t be shy: there really are no excuses for not sharing what we know is excellent work going on out there. Closing dates for entries are 21 May, with the judging of shortlisted nominations taking place over the summer. Announcements of the winners will be made at the final Management in Practice Event at the NEC Birmingham on 20 October.

Good luck, and enjoy the spring issue!

1. Quinn I. Birmingham GPs spied on with secret surveillance in patient survey drive. Pulse 2 March 2010.