Coming in?

The QOF Advisory Committee at NICE has published the minutes of its first couple of meetings which took place in June and July. I must admit that I have quite high hopes of this committee. In fact I have to declare that I applied to sit on it myself although was not selected. The very fact that its minutes have been published is a sign of some improvement in the whole process. We can all see the indicators being proposed and developed. In this posting I will look at the new indicators that they have put on what they describe as the "menu".

On a really very busy day in June they looked at a lot of proposed indicators, and found most of them wanting. The majority were sent back for more work. This has had the unfortunate result of leaving their menu looking somewhat bare. Additionally the committee has not suggested the number of points or ranges that should be attached to each indicator. In fact there is so little detail that these seem more like a list of raw ingredients than fully prepared dishes. These proposed indicators will go on to the negotiators and may possibly become part of QOF.

First the good news. A proposal for staged indicators for blood pressure in diabetes at 150/90 and 140/80. It has long been a perverse part of the QOF that it was much more lucrative to deal with mild disease than more significant disease and this would both reward tighter control and extend the reach of the QOF. Much will depend on the points awarded to each area - no details are given.

Much lower on the practicality scale is the suggested annual thyroid blood tests for patients with Down's syndrome who are over 18. The clinical and financial case for this in the briefing papers is somewhat thin at best. Even worse is the practicality of this indicator. A rough calculation (based on a birth prevalence of 1 in 1000 and a life expectancy of 50) suggests that a typical practice would have around three patients to check annually. Small practices would have fewer and, as we are dealing with such small numbers, many are likely to have none at all. These practices would not be eligible for the points at all in a similar way to that seen already with the lithium indicators. In 2007-8 579 practices (out of ten thousand or so) gained no points for these as they had no patients taking lithium.

The final indicator on the menu proposes the mentioning of contraception and conception advice to women of reproductive age currently treated for epilepsy. It seems to assume that they are quite forgetful and suggests they should be reminded annually. It is difficult to argue that this is a bad thing to do but there is little evidence for any positive effect either. Even the economic experts say that there is so little evidence that assessment is impossible.

It is a rather disappointing menu with little that is new and exciting and little that seems likely to be of significant clinical benefit. The committee sent many other potential indicators back as "must do better" and we wait to see if they can. Next time - what might be going out.

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