Atlas highlights variation in NHS care

  • Date: 13 December 2011

A REPORT highlighting variations in NHS care in England has found large differences in areas such as dementia drug prescribing rates and standards of diabetes care.

The NHS Atlas of Variation 2011 shows how much primary care trusts across the country are spending on clinical services and links this with the health outcomes patients see.

One of the biggest differences to emerge was in prescribing rates for anti-dementia medication with patients in some areas, such as North Lancashire, 25-times more likely to receive the drugs than those in places such as Kent. One possible reason for the difference, the report suggests, is that some local GPs are unable to spot the early signs of Alzheimer’s.

Meanwhile, patients with type 2 diabetes are twice as likely to receive the best standard of care in some areas, including Devon, than other areas such as Lincolnshire.

Differences were also found in heart attack care, with an eight-fold variation in the range of patients receiving angioplasty treatment for a severe (STEMI) heart attack. It’s thought the variation could be due to long travel times to reach patients in rural areas.

The length of hospital stays for breast cancer patients also varied widely. In parts of south Wales, patients can stay for days whereas in Hertfordshire the same surgery warrants an overnight stay. The report states that most patients undergoing breast cancer surgery can be "safely managed as day cases or with a single overnight stay" but it adds: "At present, over 20 primary care trusts have (average) lengths of stay in excess of three days".

The Atlas, published by the Department of Health, consists of 71 maps illustrating variations in NHS healthcare services. It is designed to help commissioners “consider the appropriateness of a service, and investigate when clinical health outcomes are not reflecting the financial investment that has been made.”

The report was first published in November 2010 and consisted of 34 maps. More than 120,000 copies have been downloaded and 10,000 hard copies requested.

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."


The NHS Atlas of Variation 2011

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