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NHS Choices piles access pressure on GPs as disparity between online ratings and patient surveys revealed

By Nigel Praities

Exclusive: GPs are set to come under enormous pressure to further improve access on the say of individual patients, as evidence of a big disparity between NHS Choices ratings and patient survey score starts to emerge.

The website has received thousands of comments in its first two weeks of operation, with a string of practices who scored highly in the patient survey finding themselves on the receiving end of negative patient feedback.

In its first two weeks the site - which the Government hopes to further drive competition between practices - has attracted around 3,500 comments.

An analysis of the first 1,000 of these, carried out by NHS Choices, reveals the vast majority (874) were accepted by moderators.

Of those 60% of patients said they would recommend their practice, with 17% not recommending their practice and 23% with no view.

These figures are lower than the GPC was quoting last week, with Dr Laurence Buckman saying their analysis showed a figure of around 80% recommending their practice.

And closer examination of the figures reveal striking disparities between the comments made on the site and the scores of practices on the patient survey.

Only 66% of patients say they could always or usually book an appointment when they wanted one on NHS Choices, compared with the 82% of patients in the patient survey who said they were satisfied with access at their practices.

Half of patients on NHS Choices say they can always get through to their practice, compared with 70% of patients in the patient survey who found it easy to get through on the telephone.

For one practice in Essex, despite a 94% satisfaction rating under the advance appointment booking question in the patient survey, patients complained on NHS Choices about ‘difficulty with access' and ‘rarely' being able to get an appointment when they want one.

Dr Brian Balmer, chief executive of Essex LMCs, said it was early days, but the results so far did show that the site could be distorted by patients with an axe to grind.

‘It is human nature that this would be the case and that was probably in the minds of those who created it.'

'It is too early to say if this NHS Choices experiment is going to be helpful for patients. I have my doubts, but I would, wouldn't I?' he said.

What they say about the great and the good

If anyone had a doubts over the wisdom of letting patients loose on NHS Choices, the comments left by one patient on a practice in Birmingham should serve as a salutary lesson.

The patient complains the practice is disorganised and the receptionists are ‘extremely rude'. They say the doctors ‘aren't bad' but do not provide accurate and up to date information on services and opening hours.

The comments would pass almost unnoticed on NHS Choices if they were not referring to a practice where two of the most respected GPs in the country work.

Professors Steve Field and Richard Hobbs, you have been warned…

Patients rating their practice online have proved sterner critics than those responding to the patient survey Patients rating their practice online have proved sterner critics than those responding to the patient survey

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