OBJECTIVES: It is increasingly recognized that the design characteristics of pay-for-performance schemes are important in determining their impact. One important but under-studied design aspect is the extent to which pay-for-performance schemes reflect local priorities. The English Department of Health White Paper High Quality Care for All introduced a Commissioning for Quality and Innovation (CQUIN) Framework from April 2009, under which local commissioners and providers were required to negotiate and implement an annual pay-for-performance scheme. In 2010/2011, these schemes covered 1.5% (£ 1.0 bn) of NHS expenditure. Local design was intended to offer flexibility to local priorities and generate local enthusiasm, while retaining good design properties of focusing on outcomes and processes with a clear link to quality, using established indicators where possible, and covering three key domains of quality (safety; effectiveness; patient experience) and innovation. We assess the extent to which local design achieved these objectives.
METHODS: Quantitative analysis of 337 locally negotiated CQUIN schemes in 2010/2011, along with qualitative analysis of 373 meetings (comprising 800 hours of observation) and 230 formal interviews (audio-recorded and transcribed verbatim) with NHS staff in 12 case study sites.
RESULTS: The local development process was successful in identifying variation in local needs and priorities for quality improvement but the involvement of frontline clinical staff was insufficient to generate local enthusiasm around the schemes. The schemes did not in general live up to the requirements set by the Department of Health to ensure that local schemes addressed the original objectives for the CQUIN framework.
CONCLUSIONS: While there is clearly an important case for local strategic and clinical input into the design of pay-for-performance schemes, this should be kept separate from the technical design process, which involves defining indicators, agreeing thresholds, and setting prices. These tasks require expertise that is unlikely to exist in each locality. The CQUIN framework potentially offered an opportunity to learn how technical design influenced outcome but due to the high degree of local experimentation and little systematic collection of key variables, it is difficult to derive lessons from this unstructured experiment about the impact and importance of different technical design factors on the effectiveness of pay-for-performance. Balancing the policy goal of localism with the objective of improving patient outcomes leads us to conclude that a somewhat firmer national framework would be preferable to a fully locally designed framework.
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