The National Institute for Health and clinical Excellence (NICE) depression guideline (2004) and the updated Quality and Outcomes Framework (QOF) ( 2006) in general practice have introduced the concepts of screening severity assessment, for example using the Patient Health Questionnaire 9 (PHQ-9), and ‘stepped care’ for depression.
To explore primary care practitioner perspectives on the clinical utility of the NICE guideline and the impact of the QOF on diagnosis and management of depression in routine practice.
Design and setting
Qualitative study using focus groups from four multidisciplinary practice teams with diverse populations in south Yorkshire.
Four focus groups were conducted, using a topic guide and audiotaping. There were 38 participants: GPs, nurses, doctors in training, mental health workers, and a manager. Data analysis was iterative and thematic.
The NICE guideline, with its embedded principles of holism and evidence-based practice, was viewed positively but its impact was compromised by resource and practitioner barriers to implementation. The perceived imposition of the screening questions and severity assessments (PHQ-9) with no responsive training had required practitioners to work hard to minimise negative impacts on their work, for example: constantly adapting consultations to tick boxes; avoiding triggering open displays of distress without the time to offer appropriate care; positively managing how their patients were labelled. Further confusion was experienced around the evolving content of psychological interventions for depression.
Organisational barriers to the implementation of the NICE guideline and the limited scope of the QOF highlight the need for policy makers to work more effectively with the complex realities of general practice in order to systematically improve the quality and delivery of ‘managed’ care for depression.