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Patients increasingly reluctant to recommend their GP practice on NHS Choices

By Alisdair Stirling

Appointments and access are dominating patients' complaints on the GP practice-rating website NHS Choices and the proportion of patients willing to recommend their practice has fallen substantially, an official report shows.

An analysis of around 18,000 comments on the Department of Health-run website, obtained by Pulse, reveals patients have become increasingly critical since the site was launched in October 2009.

Just 45% of patients said they would recommend their GP practice, with 32% saying they would not and 23% expressing no view – a significant decline since an early analysis of the first 1,000 comments, which found 60% recommended their practice and only 17% did not.

The analysis, entitled 'What Patients Think', found a 'preoccupation with appointments and the customer service aspects of GP practice care' in the comments left by patients, with 51% mentioning appointments, 37% reception staff and 27% telephone access.

And GPs are far worse at responding to patients' comments than hospitals - responding to only one in eight comments, compared to hospitals' one in every three.

The report said the lower number of replies and the 'defensive tone' of many showed GPs were still coming to terms with the value of online feedback in helping to improve services.

The analysis names the Cowplain Family Practice in Cowplain, Hampshire, as England's most recommended practice, while six of the bottom ten practices are in London, including two in Tower Hamlets and two in Haringey.

Dr Manpreet Pujara, a GP in Rochester, Kent and a national GP clinical lead for Connecting for Health, said GPs needed to be more pro-active in responding to patients' comments.

'GPs need to think of this as an important mechanism of feedback and ensure they treat it in the same way as more traditional ones,' he said. ‘Practices should set themselves a deadline - a couple of days maximum - to respond.'

Dr Michael Taylor, a GP in Heywood, Lancashire and former chair of the Family Doctor Association, said it was ‘quite astonishing' that so many patients' comments were ignored by practices.

'GPs have got to spend some time and effort responding to patients´ remarks. There´s the old adage that if they like what you do they´ll tell three or four others and if they don´t then they´ll tell 12. GPs need to bear that in mind.'

Dr Chris Monella's practice in Dorking, Surrey was named as one of the most recommended in the country in NHS Choices' analysis 'A complaint should be the absolute end of the line'

Online feedback is just the same as bumping into your patients in the street and exchanging a few words, says Dr Chris Monella (pictured right).

'You wouldn't dream of ignoring them and not responding. Your patient has given time to leave the feedback, so if you can correct a misconception or respond to their thanks, then you should.'

Dr Monella's practice in Dorking, Surrey was named as one of the most recommended in the country in NHS Choices' analysis, and has now received 94 comments from patients – 93 of them recommendations.

Dr Monella said: 'The point is to make the whole experience better for patients. It´s also a way of dealing with issues quickly, as they arise. A complaint should be the absolute end of the line.'