There are clear policy objectives in England to encourage primary care and general practice to address health inequalities. In this paper we explore the potential impact of the Quality and Outcomes Framework (QOF) on health inequalities and review the available evidence including analysis of the area based differences in performance between practices in Spearhead and non-Spearhead areas. Overall, the evidence suggests that differences in performance, as measured by the QOF, between practices in deprived and non-deprived areas are narrowing. Although QOF achievement improved in all practices there is weak evidence as to the impact of the QOF on health. The evidence is equivocal as to whether improvements in clinical care and the narrowing gap in performance are influenced by the incentives created by the QOF or whether this translates into reduced health inequalities. Even though the QOF is only part of the range of incentives which affects practices, it is vital that indicators are aligned to the objective of reducing health inequalities. Additional research is needed to understand whether the QOF ensures that those who are the most difficult to reach and those whose need of care is greatest are getting access to high quality primary care and whether in turn it will succeed in reducing health inequalities.
Anna Dixon, Artak Khachatryan
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