Exclusive NHS Choices has removed almost 200 patient reviews of GP practices this year over suspicions of practice staff involvement.
One patient at a practice in Somerset was asked to prove that she was not an employee and did not have a connection with the surgery ‘beyond that of the normal patient-GP relationship’ after posting a five-star review on the site.
In a letter to the patient, NHS Choices threatened to reject the comment within seven days if no response was received.
It later told Pulse that it had removed almost 200 reviews this year over suspicions of staff involvement. It stressed it takes the ‘integrity of these reviews seriously’, and that these 200 would include positive and negative reviews that have been flagged as suspicious by users.
NHS Choices also emphasised that this represents 0.25% of the 80,000 reviews posted on the website.
However, local GP leaders said the practice of vetting positive comments is ‘extremely demeaning’ and suggests that GPs ‘have got nothing better to do at this incredibly busy time’.
Karen Thompson, a patient at Tudor Lodge Surgery in Somerset, left a review of the practice in May, praising it for ‘the kind, caring and professionalism of all the staff’.
However, NHS Choices then sent her an email, seen by Pulse, saying her comment had been ‘flagged up as it may have been written by a member of staff’ and it was removed from the site.
The email said: ‘Could you please confirm within seven days that you are not, nor have been in the past, employed by the surgery or have any other connection to the surgery beyond that of the normal patient-GP relationship.’
It added: ‘If I do not hear from you within the seven days then your comment will be rejected.’
Following clarification from Ms Thompson that she was a patient, the comment was republished on the site.
Ms Thompson said the email was ‘offensive’ and the intervention forced her to ‘question the validity’ of the site.
She said: ‘The NHS gets so much negative press that I just think you should be able to write positive things.’
Practice manager Suzie Heller, said: ‘It just makes my blood boil, how unfair the system is.’
She added: ‘It really knocks you when people make negative comments and then you just feel like weeping when you realise there’s actually a positive comment from a patient.’
GPs have long called for NHS Choices to be scrapped, with GPs voting in favour of a motion to remove ‘trivial complaints’ from NHS Choices at the most recent England LMCs conference.
GP practices have previously come under fire from the CQC’s chief inspector of primary care for creating false accounts and posting positive reviews on NHS Choices before their inspection.
However, Dr Mike Ingram, a Hertfordshire LMC member, told Pulse: ‘To actually find that positive reviews are suspected is extremely demeaning, and not only that, it suggests that general practices have got nothing better to do at this incredibly busy time, than to run around trying to generate artificial positive reviews like a naff restaurant on Tripadvisor.’
Dr Ingram, who argued against the England LMCs motion, said the situation is ‘a very cynical and sad reflection of the way general practice is viewed by others in the NHS’.
A spokesperson for NHS Choices said: ‘NHS Choices receives around 150,000 reviews a year. We take the integrity of these reviews seriously because they inform patient choices, so if a concern is raised about a review then we don’t publish it until we have investigated.
‘Our investigations involve contacting the person who posted the review as often there is simply a misunderstanding. Of the 3,400 issues we have investigated so far this year, we upheld around 58% of the concerns, with the other 42% published as swiftly as possible.’