The CQC is systematically trawling through thousands of comments about GP practices on patient websites to flag up ‘negative’ posts for its intelligent monitoring scheme.
A report published by the National Audit Office on the CQC’s performance reveals how the CQC is searching through ‘around 6,000’ patient comments each month on websites including NHS Choices, Patient Opinion and its own site.
The CQC uses the negative comments – which includes all healthcare providers – to ‘identify risk in intelligent monitoring reports’, which ultimately contributes to how GP practices are prioritised for inspection, the report said.
When the CQC introduced intelligent monitoring for GP practices last November, the regulator did not state that it would use website posts, saying it would be based on QOF, the GP patient survey, HSCIC indicator portal, hospital episode statistics and an analysis of electronic prescribing analysis and costs.
And last year, the CQC’s chief inspector of general practice, Professor Steve Field, said the CQC put little stock into comments on patient websites, claiming that failing GP practices were creating false accounts and posting positive reviews on NHS Choices before their CQC inspection.
But the NAO’s report, published this week, stated: ‘Each month the Commission manually codes around 6,000 comments from the public on websites like NHS Choices, Patient Opinion and its own Share Your Experience.
‘It uses negative comments to identify risk in intelligent monitoring reports. Even at these volumes there are many providers with few or no comments, particularly for adult social care and GPs.’
The CQC’s GP intelligent monitoring scheme became marred in controversy after the regulator admitted that there was errors with the data it had used, and was forced to make revisions to the indicators.
In March this year, the CQC bowed to intense pressure from the GPC and RCGP to drop the ‘risk banding’ element of its intelligent monitoring scheme – after the regulator conceded that it recognised the public would have perceived the publication of the ‘risk bandings’ as a judgement of the quality of care.
The CQC has recently said that practices’ intelligent monitoring reports will be updated later in the summer, after the regulator insisted that it will change the language it has previously used ‘so that it does not imply a risk to patient safety.’
Dr Rob Barnett, secretary for Liverpool LMC told Pulse that if the CQC is going to gather negative comments on practices, it should include positive comments too, otherwise the process risks giving a false impression of the provider.
He added: ‘I think that if the CQC are specifically looking for patient comments, I would be hoping that they would be weighing negative against positive. It’s like Trip Advisor – if you look on NHS Choices, you do get positive comments and negative comments.
‘But the positive comments should outweigh the negative ones, because people often find it easy to put negative comments – but people go out of their way to put positive comments – so I believe that positive comments actually have more validity than negative ones.
‘If the CQC is only interested in one set of comments, I think it’s giving a false impression of the situation. I found nothing intelligent about CQC intelligent monitoring; it’s an abuse of the word intelligent.’
The NAO report also said that the CQC had ‘underestimated how long it would take to train staff and carry out inspections’ under its new inspection regime – which has subsequently seen the regulator defer the initial date it had planned to inspect all GP practices by nearly eight months to 1 October 2016.