Scotland to get ‘atlas of variation’ in health and care

Written by Tom Freeman on 14 September 2017 in News

Tool to tackle postcode lottery of health services will be launched in 2018, says CMO

Dr Catherine Calderwood- Scottish Government

An atlas of variation in health and care services is being drawn up to tackle inconsistencies, the chief medical officer has confirmed.

In an exclusive interview with Holyrood, CMO Catherine Calderwood said the resource could be a “very powerful” tool in improving services and recognising health inequalities.

NHS England currently produces its own atlas of variation, which identifies where unwarranted variation exist by revealing the possible over-use and under-use of different aspects of healthcare.


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Provision of healthcare can vary between health boards, in what some call a ‘postcode lottery’ of provision.

Calderwood told Holyrood addressing such issues can be easy in a country the size of Scotland.

“We’ve never had an atlas of variation in Scotland before. Some of it will be on acute procedure, some of it will be the public health stuff, like what the rates of obesity in children are.”

Calderwood said it would be able to feed into her Realistic Medicine agenda, which seeks to cut down over-prescribing of drugs and treatments by asking patients what they want.

The atlas, she said, would look at “unnecessary variation in practise, and I think that will be very powerful for Scotland as a nation. We’re a small nation, and we know each other”.

The atlas was launched south of the border by Public Health England after a growing variation in services became apparent in the wake of reforms which gave hospital trusts and clinical commissioners more autonomy.

It discovered big discrepancies between what specialist services were available in different parts of the country.

It is thought the Scottish atlas of variation will be published in 2018.

You can read the full interview with Dr Catherine Calderwood in the latest issue of Holyrood Magazine.

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