Value for money and the quality and outcomes framework in primary care in the UK NHS

Simon Walker, Anne R. Mason, Karl Claxton, Richard Cookson, Elisabeth Fenwick, Robert Fleetcroft, Mark Sculpher

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

52 Citations (Scopus)


Background: The Quality and Outcomes Framework (QOF) is a pioneering attempt to improve the quality of primary care in the UK through the use of financial rewards. Despite its achievements, there are concerns that the QOF may offer poor value for money.

Aim: To assess the cost-effectiveness of QOF payments.

Design of study: Economic analysis.

Setting: England, UK.

Method: Cost-effectiveness evidence was identified for a subset of nine QOF indicators with a direct therapeutic impact. These data were then applied to an analytic framework to determine the conditions under which QOF payments would be cost-effective. This framework was constructed to assess the cost-effectiveness of QOF payments by modelling the incentive structure using cost-effectiveness thresholds of £20 000 and £30 000 per quality-adjusted life year (QALY) gained, to represent good value to the NHS. It used 2004/2005 data on the QOF performance of all English primary care practices.

Results: Average indicator payments ranged from £0.63 to £40.61 per patient, and the percentage of eligible patients treated ranged from 63% to 90%. The proportional changes required for QOF payments to be cost-effective varied widely between the indicators. Although most indicators required only a fraction of a 1% change to be cost-effective, for some indicators improvements in performance of around 20% were needed.

Conclusion: For most indicators that can be assessed, QOF incentive payments are likely to be a cost-effective use of resources for a high proportion of primary care practices, even if the QOF achieves only modest improvements in care. However, only a small subset of the indicators has been considered, and no account has been taken of the costs of administering the QOF scheme.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)e213-e220
Number of pages8
JournalBritish Journal of General Practice
Issue number574
Publication statusPublished - 2010

Cite this