New NHS Atlas of Variation website reveals health postcode lottery
Huge regional inequalities in the quality, quantity and costs of health care have been revealed by a new website.Treatments for cancer and dementia and access to care homes are among the areas highlighted in the NHS Atlas of Variation, which was published yesterday.
The annual study carried out across England is a detailed survey of the “postcode lottery” in NHS treatment.
Ministers say the results will help identify “unjustified” disparities and drive up standards resulting in “consistently high quality care”.
The report shows a stark contrast in the rate of prescribing anti-dementia drugs.
Patients in north Lancashire are being described 25 times as many treatments and tablets to help “temporarily improve or stabilise symptoms” than in Kent.
The report suggests that one possible reason is the lack of awareness some GPs have about how to spot early symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease – a concern shared by campaigners for those living with the illness.
It also highlights worries that some breast cancer patients are staying in hospital too long in some parts of the country as compared with others.
The survey notes that most patients undergoing breast cancer surgery can be “safely managed as day cases or with a single overnight stay” but that currently more than 20 primary care trusts have average lengths of stay “in excess of three days”.
For example, the same surgery carried out in parts of south Wales resulted in patients staying in hospital for a few days where in Hertfordshire they stayed only one night.
Access to care homes – paid for by the NHS for those receiving end-of-life care or round-the-clock intensive care – also varied considerably.
In Devon and Cornwall, with its high elderly population, the admission rate for those aged over 74 to care homes funded by the NHS was just under three per 100,000 of the population. The figure in Northumberland was 190.
Meanwhile the rate of angioplasty operations – which tackle blocked and narrowed arteries – was three times higher in Peterborough than County Durham.
The report measures 71 key indicators, including hospital admission rates, what treatments health trusts choose to fund, and how children are managed in the NHS.
It attempts to map the “utilisation of healthcare services that cannot be explained by variation in patient illness or patient preferences”.
Health minister Lord Howe said: “The Atlas of Variation lets us look at how the local NHS is meeting the clinical needs of their local population.
“This will help commissioners to identify unjustified variations and drive up standards so patients are receiving consistently high quality care throughout the NHS.
“We are committed to improving results for patients and our new NHS Outcomes Framework will hold the NHS to account for this. Commissioners will be able to apply contractual penalties if any organisation is failing to deliver improvements for patients.”
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