NHS 'guidebook to GPs' website riddled with errors
By Steve Nowottny
The NHS website set to become a hotel-style guide to GP services is riddled with errors, a Pulse investigation reveals.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown this week unveiled details of plans for NHS Choices to launch patient ratings of GP services, in an effort to increase competition between practices.
Yet with just a few months to go before the rollout of the service, our analysis finds almost half of practice listings on the site fail even to correctly state whether surgeries are offering extended hours, and many more give inaccurate opening times.
The findings come despite a massive data-checking exercise launched by the Government just three months ago. They raise the prospect of patients switching between practices, or to one of the new GP-led health centres, on the basis of inaccurate or out-of-date information.
From the summer, patients will be able to leave comments on every practice in England and rate them out of five on criteria likely to include access and customer service, with a facility to view practices ranked by score.
As part of an investigation into extended hours, Pulse rang 200 practices across 111 PCTs to check whether the surgery offered evening and weekend appointments and cross-checked the results against NHS Choices listings. As many as 45% of entries failed to correctly state whether extended hours appointments were offered.
A more detailed analysis of 10 randomly selected practices found seven had at least one error in the listings for opening times.
The GPC described the findings as ‘very disappointing' and called for the Department of Health to take steps to correct listings ‘immediately'. Dr Beth McCarron-Nash, GPC negotiator, said: ‘It is extremely disturbing to hear that the NHS's flagship information website is factually inaccurate. We cannot have patients accessing information about practices that is inaccurate.'
The findings come despite a concerted data-checking exercise already having been launched. In December, the Information Centre began contacting every practice in England to check its listing after concern over inaccuracies.
Practices that have already begun editing their own profile have already made corrections. Other changes will be uploaded once PCTs have double-checked data in the next few weeks.
NHS Choices is understood to be aware that errors on the scale suggested by Pulse's survey do exist, but insists opening time data will be particularly inaccurate because many surgeries have only recently taken on extended hours.
An NHS Choices spokesperson said: ‘NHS Choices can only be as good as the information we are given from practices and PCTs. We strongly recommend practices regularly review their profiles. Our routine checks allow us to be confident the vast majority of information on NHS Choices is correct.'
Gordon Brown formally announced the plans for NHS Choices at the launch of a new policy document on public services this week.
Pulse broke news of the patient ratings plan last year.Errors on NHS Choices
• The opening time errors littering the NHS Choices database range from the minor to the extreme
• Some entries fail to mention practices offer extended hours – or if they do, get them wrong. One north London practice, listed as offering late appointments only on a Monday, actually told Pulse it opens 8am-8pm Monday to Friday
• And even efforts to correct listings seem in some cases to have gone awry. A rural Suffolk practice, with incorrect opening times on its NHS Choices profile, has somehow managed to create a second, incomplete profile – leaving patients to guess which are the correct times