Editorials

Better ways of assessing health needs in primary care

BMJ 1995; 310 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.310.6978.480 (Published 25 February 1995) Cite this as: BMJ 1995;310:480
  1. John Shanks,
  2. Sadru Kheraj,
  3. Sue Fish
  1. Consultant in public health medicine Lambeth Southwark and Lewisham Health Commission, London SE1 7RJ
  2. General practitioner Iveagh House Surgery, London SW9 7SE
  3. Practice manager Crown Dale Medical Centre, London SE19 3NY

    Requires adapting conventional methods

    Commissioning authorities increasingly attempt to base their purchasing decisions on systematic, epidemiologically informed assessment of the health needs of their local populations. General practitioners as purchasers usually rely on their own judgment. No one knows which method works better, but a combined approach may capture some of the advantages of both.

    One of the more widely welcomed aspects of the NHS reforms was the requirement that health authorities' decisions on how to use NHS resources should in future be based on a systematic assessment of each local population's needs for health care. This is meant to take account of local demography, the epidemiology of health problems, evidence on the effectiveness of treatments, and the preferences of local people.1 Needs assessment has become an important task for public health doctors and others working in commissioning authorities. This more rational and scientific method is put forward as an improvement over the former approach to allocating health funding, caricatured as “same as last year, plus or minus five per cent for pressure groups.”2

    The most obvious way in which general practitioners can shape decisions on the pattern of purchasing for hospital and community health services is by becoming fundholders. Non-fundholding general …

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