Background: In many UK general practices, nurses have been used to deliver results against the indicators of the Quality and Outcomes Framework (QOF), a 'pay for performance' scheme.
Aim: To determine the association between the level of nurse staffing in general practice and the quality of clinical care as measured by the QOF.
Design of the study: Cross-sectional analysis of routine data.
Setting: English general practice in 2005/2006.
Method: QOF data from 7456 general practices were linked with a database of practice characteristics, nurse staffing data, and census-derived data on population characteristics and measures of population density. Multi-level modelling explored the relationship between QOF performance and the number of patients per full-time equivalent nurse. The outcome measures were achievement of quality of care for eight clinical domains as rated by the QOF, and reported achievement of 10 clinical outcome indicators derived from it.
Results: A high level of nurse staffing (fewer patients per full-time equivalent practice-employed nurse) was significantly associated with better performance in 4/8 clinical domains of the QOF (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, coronary heart disease, diabetes, and hypertension, P = 0.004 to P<0.001) and in 4/10 clinical outcome indicators (diabetes: glycosylated haemoglobin [HbA(1C)] < or =7.4%, HbA(1C) < or =10% and total cholesterol < or =193 mg/dl; and stroke: total cholesterol < or =5 mmol/L, P = 0.0057 to P<0.001).
Conclusion: Practices that employ more nurses perform better in a number of clinical domains measured by the QOF. This improved performance includes better intermediate clinical outcomes, suggesting real patient benefit may be associated with using nurses to deliver care to meet QOF targets.