Any qualified provider: A qualitative case study of one community NHS Trust's response
Walumbe J., Swinglehurst D., Shaw S.
Objective: To examine how those managing and providing community-based musculoskeletal (MSK) services have experienced recent policy allowing patients to choose any provider that meets certain quality standards from the National Health Service (NHS), private or voluntary sector. Design: Intrinsic case study combining qualitative analysis of interviews and field notes. Setting: An NHS Community Trust (the main providers of community health services in the NHS) in England, 2013-2014. Participants: NHS Community Trust employees involved in delivering MSK services, including clinical staff and managerial staff in senior and mid-range positions. Findings: Managers (n=4) and clinicians (n=4) working within MSK services understood and experienced the Any Qualified Provider (AQP) policy as involving: (1) a perceived trade-off between quality and cost in its implementation; (2) deskilling of MSK clinicians and erosion of professional values; and (3) a shift away from interprofessional collaboration and dialogue. These ways of making sense of AQP policy were associated with dissatisfaction with market-based health reforms. Conclusions: AQP policy is poorly understood. Clinicians and managers perceive AQP as synonymous with competition and privatisation. From the perspective of clinicians providing MSK services, AQP, and related health policy reforms, tend, paradoxically, to drive down quality standards, supporting reconfiguration of services in which the complex, holistic nature of specialised MSK care may become marginalised by policy concerns about efficiency and cost. Our analysis indicates that the potential of AQP policy to increase quality of care is, at best, equivocal, and that any consideration of how AQP impacts on practice can only be understood by reference to a wider range of health policy reforms.