Patients to review practices on NHS website

Ministers are aiming to improve GP performance in England by allowing patients to post comment about practices on the NHS Choices website by summer 2009.

Photograph: JH Lancy
Photograph: JH Lancy

The Guardian reports a story broken by GP in April 2007 that patients are to be allowed to comment on and rate their practices on the website now run by the Capita Group.

Health minister Ben Bradshaw tells The Guardian that appropriate software will be ready next year but that content will be moderated so no individual GP or staff member is named and shamed.

He says: ‘I would never think of going on holiday without cross-referencing at least two guide books and using Trip Advisor. We need to do something similar for the modern generation in healthcare.

‘I want people to be able to read comments. It may be that people think that the GP is fantastic and they can always get an appointment within 48 hours. Or they may have terrible experiences and think the receptionist is really rude.'

He compares existing quality scores with ‘results of an east European election under the Soviet regime' because nearly every practice scores 96, 97 or 98%.

A DoH spokesman said: ‘NHS Choices provides a new way of communicating for the NHS, with an open dialogue between the patient, public and services. Alongside patient comments, there is a whole series of areas on the website where people can comment and provide feedback.

‘We are encouraging hospitals, and will do so with GP practices, to make the most of the patient comments facility to engage with patients.  We have seen that the comments are mixed and balanced and this is an opportunity to respond online and demonstrate to prospective and current patients how they (the NHS) are taking feedback on board.

‘This will drive improvement. Services will not want their local communities to read negative feedback. On many occasions, the focus of the comment or complaint can be easily addressed at the local level. The service already offers an unparalleled opportunity for hospitals to be made aware and to improve patients and public services from changing signage to A&E, to noise and lighting on the wards. While these are not service-wide policy issues, they have a significant impact on the perception of the overall quality of the hospital. They also represent a mechanism for the hospital trust to interact directly with the public and demonstrate two-way communication.

‘Hospitals and practices receive huge amounts of praise by their patients everyday, through direct thanks to the nurses, letters to the staff and to local newspapers. NHS Choices provides a mass audience forum for staff to get wider recognition.

‘Patient comments on NHS Choices is a practical demonstration of how the NHS is putting patient feedback at the heart of policy. The draft bill for the NHS Constitution will actually enshrine in law the rights of patients to be given as much information about their services as possible.'

The debate about the ability for patients to comment publicly about care received will be familiar to GPs after libel lawyers wrote to the creators of similar but non-NHS website iwantgreatcare.org earlier this year urging them to beware of the potential for defamatory comments written by patients on the website about GPs.

GPC deputy chairman Dr Richard Vautrey said: 'GPs always welcome comments from patients as they help practices to improve the service they offer. Patients also value reliable information about their local practice. It is a shame therefore that the government has discontinued the practice-based patient survey which gave thousands of patients every year the opportunity to comment on the quality of service and care they received from their practice.

'A message board facility is open to abuse. Even if a malicious posting doesn’t name an individual if the practice involved is a small one it would be very easy to identify the GP or staff member. Well meaning individuals could also bias the posted comments. There is the danger that this could become nothing more than a meaningless popularity contest which leaves patients with an unreliable source of information about their local practice. It’s very easy to be a popular GP, it’s much harder to be a good GP. '

neil.durham@haymarket.com

But what do you think? Should patients be able to rate practices on NHS Choices?

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