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Letter of the week: GPs powerless to correct NHS Choices claims

My colleagues have expressed concern about the way that a proportion of unsubstantiated negative comments are starting to appear on the NHS Choices site, using a process perhaps more suited to the budget hotel sector than our precious NHS.

We can relate one, for example, to a person who was not actually registered and behaved unreasonably towards our reception staff. 

After a long process and wait we were unable to influence NHS Choices to change, remove or limit two of the original unfair, negative comments.

We have since been told by NHS Choices that all the comments made about practices are not moderated and can be withdrawn on appeal, but only if they are considered racist or contain major swear words. 

Therefore the validity of any of the comments cannot be challenged, as NHS Choices considers these to be ‘opinions', even if they are not true.

Because of this, we have published a general statement on the site (see below), which says in part: ‘The NHS Choices website is operated by the NHS on our behalf and as such we have little control over it.

‘The patient comments made on this site are anonymous and are not necessarily made by actual patients registered at our practice. Although we can challenge these, the process is slow and there is no redress unless they are considered extreme. We would urge you to talk to local people for their opinions when choosing a practice.

‘If you have a question about a specific comment made on this site we would be happy to answer it either in writing, or by telephone call to a senior member of the administrative team or the practice manager.'

It seems that there is little else that we can do.

From Dr Stephen Bowers, Bury

 

General statement regarding some of the comments about our practice

The Choices web site is operated by the NHS on our behalf and as such we have little control over it. Please see our own site at blackfordhmc.co.uk for further information. The patient comments made on this site are anonymous and are not necessarily made by actual patients registered at our practice. Although we can challenge these the process is slow and there is no redress unless they are considered extreme. We have been told by NHS Choices that all the comments made about practices are not moderated. However that they can be withdrawn on appeal, but only if they are considered racist or contain major swear words.  Therefore the validity of any of the comments cannot be challenged as NHS Choices considers these to be ‘opinions', even if they are not true to whatever degree.

We notice that most practices are starting to get a proportion of negative comments, and we too find ourselves in this position.  We have tried to challenge some of these comments in the past but our efforts have been turned down.  Therefore we are making this statement to say how we feel.

We find some of these comments rather demoralising. This is because as staff and doctors we actually try very hard and we pride ourselves in the work that we do and the way in which we manage all the day to day challenges that we have, given the constraints of working in the NHS.

As a general rule most of the negative comments that you may read either cannot be substantiated or are not a fair reflection on our practice.

We would urge you to talk to local people for their opinions when choosing a practice. And if you have a question about a specific comment made on this site we would be happy to answer it either in writing, or by telephone call to a senior member of the administrative team or the practice manager.

The choices site works in a similar way for Dentists and the British Dental Association have expressed concerns that NHS choices allows serious but unsubstantiated anonymous allegations to be made and is often too slow in moderating inappropriate comments, and they say that Dentists have very reasonable concerns about the way that malicious or even fictitious feedback can be given.

To protect patient confidentiality we have decided not to respond specifically to any comments online. We would encourage anyone expressing negative comments about our practice to enter into dialogue with us either in writing, or by telephone call to a senior member of the administrative team or the practice manager.

"We have been told by NHS Choices that all the comments made about practices are not moderated. However that they can be withdrawn on appeal, but only if they are considered racist or contain major swear words.  Therefore the  validity of any of the comments cannot  be challenged as NHS Choices considers these to be ‘opinions', even if they are not true to whatever degree."

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