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Financial incentives in hospitals only reduce patient death rates in short-term

07 Aug 2014

Pay-for-performance schemes – which reward hospitals financially for improving the quality of care provided to patients – only reduce patient death rates in the short term, according to new research by The University of Manchester.

A variety of programmes have been introduced in the UK over the past decade, with mixed results. Advancing Quality, a programme imported from the United States, was the first of these schemes to demonstrate a significant reduction in patient deaths. 

It was introduced in the North West region of England in 2008. Previous research conducted at The University of Manchester showed Advancing Quality to have reduced patient deaths by 890 in the first 18 months of the policy’s introduction. 
 
But new research funded by the National Institute for Health Research Health Services and Delivery Research (NIHR HS&DR) Programme published in the New England Journal of Medicine today demonstrates that while the quality of care continued to increase over the following two years, there was no further reduction in patient deaths in the region covered by the programme over that observed in the rest of England. 
 
The study, looked at three conditions for which patients are admitted to hospital in an emergency; heart attack, pneumonia, and heart failure. Researchers from the University’s Faculty of Medical and Human Sciences and Manchester Business School, along with the University of Warwick and University of Cambridge, examined deaths occurring within 30 days of admission to hospital, comparing the 24 hospitals in the North West with 137 in the rest of England.
 
Professor Matt Sutton, from The University of Manchester who led the previous study, said: “The earlier work found significant reductions in death rates in the short-term. Our latest research shows that in the longer-term, although death rates in the North West continued to fall, the reductions for the conditions linked to the incentives were no longer larger than the national trend.”
 
Dr Søren Rud Kristensen, from The University of Manchester who led the current study, added: “These results suggest that the benefits of initiatives such as paying for performance may be temporary. Our findings could also be explained by the decision taken midway through the programme to change the incentives from bonuses for good performance to fines for failing to achieve targets.
 
“But we also found evidence to suggest that unintended but desirable spill-over effects may have occurred. These include improvements in the quality of care provided to both patients treated in hospitals in other regions, as well as patients admitted in the North West for conditions not covered by the incentive programme.”

Notes for editors

The paper entitled: “Long-Term Effect of Hospital Pay for Performance on Mortality in England’ by Søren Rud Kristensen, Rachel Meacock, Alex James Turner, Ruth Boaden, Ruth MacDonald, Martin Roland and Matt Sutton. (The University of Manchester, University of Warwick and University of Cambridge) was published in the New England Journal of Medicine on 6 August 2014 at 22HRs.

The research was by the National Institute for Health Research Health Services Delivery and Research Programme and the Danish Council for Independent Research in Social Sciences. 
 
For further information or to request an interview, please contact: 
Alison Barbuti
Media Relations Officer 
Faculty of Medical and Human Sciences
The University of Manchester
+44 (0)161 275 8383 / Mob. 07887 561 318
 
The National Institute for Health Research Health Services and Delivery Research (NIHR HS&DR) Programme was established to fund a broad range of research. It builds on the strengths and contributions of two NIHR research programmes: the Health Services Research (HSR) programme and the Service Delivery and Organisation (SDO) programme, which merged in January 2012. The programme aims to produce rigorous and relevant evidence on the quality, access and organisation of health services, including costs and outcomes. The programme will enhance the strategic focus on research that matters to the NHS. The HS&DR Programme is funded by the NIHR with specific contributions from the CSO in Scotland, NISCHR in Wales and the HSC R&D Division, Public Health Agency in Northern Ireland. www.nets.nihr.ac.uk/programmes/hsdr
 
The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) is funded by the Department of Health to improve the health and wealth of the nation through research. Since its establishment in April 2006, the NIHR has transformed research in the NHS. It has increased the volume of applied health research for the benefit of patients and the public, driven faster translation of basic science discoveries into tangible benefits for patients and the economy, and developed and supported the people who conduct and contribute to applied health research. The NIHR plays a key role in the Government’s strategy for economic growth, attracting investment by the life-sciences industries through its world-class infrastructure for health research. Together, the NIHR people, programmes, centres of excellence and systems represent the most integrated health research system in the world.
 
This article/paper/report presents independent research funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR). The views expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the NHS, the NIHR or the Department of Health.