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A faulty production line

NHS Choices removes 200 reviews over suspicions of practice staff involvement

Exclusive NHS Choices has removed almost 200 patient reviews of GP practices this year over suspicions of practice staff involvement.

One patient at a practice in Somerset was asked to prove that she was not an employee and did not have a connection with the surgery ‘beyond that of the normal patient-GP relationship’ after posting a five-star review on the site.

In a letter to the patient, NHS Choices threatened to reject the comment within seven days if no response was received.

It later told Pulse that it had removed almost 200 reviews this year over suspicions of staff involvement. It stressed it takes the 'integrity of these reviews seriously', and that these 200 would include positive and negative reviews that have been flagged as suspicious by users.

NHS Choices also emphasised that this represents 0.25% of the 80,000 reviews posted on the website.

However, local GP leaders said the practice of vetting positive comments is ‘extremely demeaning’ and suggests that GPs 'have got nothing better to do at this incredibly busy time'.

Karen Thompson, a patient at Tudor Lodge Surgery in Somerset, left a review of the practice in May, praising it for ‘the kind, caring and professionalism of all the staff’. 

However, NHS Choices then sent her an email, seen by Pulse, saying her comment had been ‘flagged up as it may have been written by a member of staff’ and it was removed from the site.

The email said: ‘Could you please confirm within seven days that you are not, nor have been in the past, employed by the surgery or have any other connection to the surgery beyond that of the normal patient-GP relationship.’

It added: ‘If I do not hear from you within the seven days then your comment will be rejected.’

Following clarification from Ms Thompson that she was a patient, the comment was republished on the site.

Ms Thompson said the email was ‘offensive’ and the intervention forced her to ‘question the validity’ of the site.

She said: ‘The NHS gets so much negative press that I just think you should be able to write positive things.’

Practice manager Suzie Heller, said: ‘It just makes my blood boil, how unfair the system is.’

She added: ‘It really knocks you when people make negative comments and then you just feel like weeping when you realise there’s actually a positive comment from a patient.’

GPs have long called for NHS Choices to be scrapped, with GPs voting in favour of a motion to remove ‘trivial complaints’ from NHS Choices at the most recent England LMCs conference.

Meanwhile, former RCGP chair Professor Clare Gerada has called for the site to be scrapped in a bid to improve GP morale.

GP practices have previously come under fire from the CQC’s chief inspector of primary care for creating false accounts and posting positive reviews on NHS Choices before their inspection.

However, Dr Mike Ingram, a Hertfordshire LMC member, told Pulse: ‘To actually find that positive reviews are suspected is extremely demeaning, and not only that, it suggests that general practices have got nothing better to do at this incredibly busy time, than to run around trying to generate artificial positive reviews like a naff restaurant on Tripadvisor.’

Dr Ingram, who argued against the England LMCs motion, said the situation is ‘a very cynical and sad reflection of the way general practice is viewed by others in the NHS’.

A spokesperson for NHS Choices said: ‘NHS Choices receives around 150,000 reviews a year. We take the integrity of these reviews seriously because they inform patient choices, so if a concern is raised about a review then we don’t publish it until we have investigated.

‘Our investigations involve contacting the person who posted the review as often there is simply a misunderstanding. Of the 3,400 issues we have investigated so far this year, we upheld around 58% of the concerns, with the other 42% published as swiftly as possible.’


Readers' comments (27)

  • Sometimes the best medicine dispensed by the best doctors is saying 'No'. However well one says this there will always be individuals who feel that they are being deprived of their rights and respond accordingly. But GP is not some sort of popularity contest and we should be prepared to accept that this sort of thing is going to happen and treat it with the contempt it deserves. Frankly I stopped looking at our NHS Choices comments years ago and we made a practice decision not to respond to any comments whether positive or negative. I would commend this approach to all.

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  • Another NHS organisation that is not fit for purpose. Aren’t the new data protection laws in place so that people don’t receive unsolicited emails?

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  • Peter Swinyard

    Damned if you do.... damned if you don't. I don't think NHS Choices helps patients as gives a biased and unrealistic view of a practice - and doesn't help practices as a morale-buster. Unless comments have to have the name of the person leaving them, this is a grossly unfair playing field. I've just looked at my surgery feedback - the only negatives are about our receptionists - I assume that they said no to someone or told them they would have to wait for an appointment.

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  • On a serious note does anyone actually bother with reviews ... I couldn't frankly give a damn about reviews.. Ok if there is a recurrent theme and something the practice can improve on ... But a general moan and whinge on it we just ignore ... I pointed this out to CQC who has the audacity to mention a few negative reviews on NHS choices... I pointed out we did over 15,000 appointments hoe many postive reviews have we had for them ?

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  • I knew the CQC definitely looks at the NHS Choices reviews (Dr Alpha found out too) it will half there workload though if have just the -ve ones to plough through and can then use as evidence to roundly berate the practice!

    Do MacDonalds have the same enlightened attitude towards feedback???

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  • What do they want us to do ? Wear a badge with stars on it ?

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  • 50% of our negative feedback, anonymous of course, is 2 patients. You can tell from what they’ve written. One patient turns up unannounced and expects to be seen immediately. Then, if their usual doctor is not available, meltdown happens. I am sure the negative comments are not policed in the same way as positive ones. I agree that saying no to patients is sometimes the right thing to do even if the patient doesn’t like it.

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  • There is something very wrong here- I can't quite put my finger on it. It's creating bias perhaps. If you set up a tool you have to be prepared for side effects. It would be much purer and more honest to allow false comments to stand and for patients to realise that and to use pinches of salt. This just seems Orwellian.

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  • I must say those who are very happy with services and send you card and box of chocolate don't visit this web site. lot of them are not aware of this web site. some of them who may have been happy 50 times but one episode upset them for valid or invalid reason put negative comments.
    people only remember which penalties goalkeeper missed and he is judged by this and not how many he saved. this is how life is. it applies to general practice as well. comments should not be anonymous.

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  • David Banner

    Tripadvisor for GPs, who cares?
    Most of us would dearly love to close our lists but are forbidden, maybe a few “planted” NEGATIVE reviews will put people off joining!
    Don’t let the motivated moaners undermine your good work, don’t even look at NHS Choices, it will only depress you and validate vindictive, petty, attention-seeking heartsinks with an axe to grind because you had the audacity to deny them an antibiotic for a cold.

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