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Practice ratings website receives hundreds of complaints over 'offensive or unsuitable' comments

By Steve Nowottny

Exclusive: The Government's NHS Choices website has had to investigate more than 260 comments left by patients about GP practices over complaints that they are ‘offensive or unsuitable', since launching the rating facility in October.

Figures obtained by Pulse under the Freedom of Information Act show that by the end of last month, NHS Choices had taken down pending further investigation 267 comments about a total of 190 practices after receiving an alert from a user reporting ‘offensive or unsuitable' material.

NHS Choices said the proportion of GP complaints upheld was ‘not recorded', although it said the great majority had been rejected and the comments republished on the site unaltered.

Overall, 71% of comments left on NHS Choices so far have been positive, with patients saying they would recommend their practice to a friend.

But on top of the published comments sparking complaints from GPs, a further 800 were submitted but judged unsuitable for publication - including serious complaints, offensive comments and criticism of individual GPs – providing evidence the site has become a magnet for unrepresentative and in some cases personal criticism.

The site has already received an official complaint from an LMC chair, submitted via the BMA, concerning feedback on one practice. More than half the country's GP practices have now been rated on the site, which health ministers pledged would allow patients to submit ‘Tripadvisor-style' feedback.

NHS Choices allows patients to leave anonymous comments and create mini-league tables to compare surgeries, although comments about individual GPs are not allowed and all comments are moderated before publication.

In total, 8.659 ratings and comments about 4,661 practices were submitted as of February. Of these, 68.5% have been published, with a further 21.5% rejected due to the lack of a verifiable email address.

A further 10% were rejected for publication because they contravened moderation guidelines. Reasons for rejection include serious complaint that should be handled through the NHS complaints process, comments being offensive or potentially defamatory and users requesting medical assistance.

NHS Choices reported 0.1% of complaints were ‘passed to the Samaritans'.

A Department of Health spokesman said: 'More than 6,000 ratings and comments about GP practices have now been published on NHS Choices. Far from 'being deluged with unrepresentative criticism' over half of these patients said they would recommend their practice, and almost two in three patients said they were always treated with respect and the involved in decisions about their care.'

'In addition, we have tough moderation rules in place which were developed with GPs themselves and are independently moderated.'

Patients are able to rate both hospitals and GP practices on the NHS Choices website Patients are able to rate both hospitals and GP practices on the NHS Choices website

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