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GPC joins forces with NHS Choices to develop ratings website

By Steve Nowottny

Exclusive: The GPC has dropped its opposition to controversial plans for patients to anonymously rate GP practices on the NHS Choices website, and is now actively working with the site to develop the proposals, Pulse can reveal.

Negotiators have been persuaded in a series of high-level meetings that the site will offer sufficient safeguards to protect GPs from malicious attack, including a key proposal for practices to have instant right of reply.

The GPC had expressed grave doubts over the scheme, which will allow patients to leave comments or score practices in areas such as access and courtesy, warning it could be ‘misleading' for the public.

Its change of tack clears the way for the rating system to be rolled out to practices across the country from early autumn.

The GPC has now agreed to help draw up the questions patients will be asked and the rules for comment moderation.

LMCs are to help NHS Choices build up a database of named practice contacts ahead of the launch in September or early October, to identify who will receive alerts when patients leave comments.

Under the safeguards agreed by NHS Choices, practices will have the right to reply to all comments, all of which will be pre-moderated. Malicious or campaigning comments, or ones identifying individual staff, will not be allowed.

However, plans to allow patients to sort practices by their ratings – effectively creating league tables – remain. Patients will also be able to leave anonymous comments and say whether they would recommend the practice to a friend.

Ministers hope the ‘TripAdvisor-style' ratings will make it easier for patients to choose a practice and force GPs to be more responsive to feedback.

GPC deputy chair Dr Richard Vautrey told Pulse doubts remained over whether the site would offer ‘meaningful value', but confirmed the GPC was now working with NHS Choices.

‘We received reassurance about how it was going to be operated and in particular how it was going to be overseen in terms of the comments posted,' he said. ‘We've offered to try to make it as sensible as possible.'

GPC negotiator Dr Beth McCarron-Nash said: ‘We've lobbied as much as we can to make the website fit for purpose. It's an awful lot better than when we started negotiations but my concern is that it won't be of great value to most patients.'

But some GPs reacted angrily to the news, warning practices could be flooded with unjustified criticism. Of 10,000 patient comments on hospital trusts since the launch of NHS Choices in June 2007, 30% have been characterised as ‘wholly negative', with 40% more measured but calling for improvements.

Dr Nigel Watson, a GPC member and chief executive of Wessex LMCs, said: ‘I'm extremely sceptical that anything the Department of Health could put in is going to be sufficiently robust to make sure it's not detrimental. Personally, I don't think scoring your doctor on the website is a good idea for patients or for doctors.'

Dr Vijayakar Abrol, a GP in Birmingham, said he was furious at the BMA for agreeing to contribute to the site.

‘When are they going to stop behaving like spineless creatures?' he asked. ‘It's a waste of resources at the expense of the doctor-patient relationship.'

NHS Choices said: ‘We are working with the GPC and other GP organisations to develop the feedback mechanism.'

GP ratings on NHS Choices. GPC now working to develop the proposals How the website will work

What's in
- Patients will be able to leave anonymous comments, and state whether they would recommend the practice to a friend based on their overall experience
- Patients will be asked to score practices on five key areas, such as staff courtesy and access
- In due course it will be possible to sort local practices by their scores on these areas, effectively creating league tables

What's out
- Patients will not be asked to rate individual GPs, and no staff will be named in feedback
- Libellous, racist, offensive or potentially defamatory comments will not be allowed. Patients who complain of serious medical negligence will be redirected to official complaint channels
- All comments will be pre-moderated and practices will have the right to reply to each one

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