We receive regular feedback from residents having difficulty accessing information from their GP surgeries. Many people tell us they can’t get same week appointments, and they’ve not been told about GP access hubs. Residents tell us GP practices don’t ask them for feedback on services received, and they’re not told how to get more involved by joining Patient Participation Groups, or by contacting Healthwatch Greenwich. We’ve also been told it’s difficult to make a complaint because information on the process is not made easily available. Residents who speak English as a second or third language tell us that little information on GP services is available in community languages.
The NHS Long Term Plan is increasing the range of digital health tools and services. People can seek health information and support online using digital technology. GP websites should make it easier to access relevant information and encourage greater self-help.
We obtained an up-to-date list of GP surgeries within the Royal Borough of Greenwich from Greenwich Clinical Commissioning Group. This list comprised 35 GP practices.
Between November and December 2019, we assessed individual practices’ websites based on the content and quality of information provided and how easy the information is to find/how user friendly each website is.
We assessed 31 out of 35 websites. Of the four websites not included, three were unavailable (or did not have a website) at the time of the audit, but offered links to an NHS summary, which we give a summary of at the end of our report5 . One surgery did not have a website but offered a link to a franchise page. This website was not included because it was unclear whether the information available was for service users.
What we found
- All but one website offers information about joining the practice. Most list documents as a requirement for registration, including photographic ID (driving licence or passport), and proof of address. Two websites don’t clarify if any documents are needed to join the practice. A small minority make it clear that no documents are needed, but only for those who are homeless or without permanent residence.
- 30 websites offer information about who to contact when the surgery is closed, service users are usually advised to contact NHS 111.
- 13 websites offer information on GP Access Hubs. In the best examples, this is provided in the ‘out of hours’ section. Websites vary on the level of detail provided on GP Access Hubs. Some websites don’t list all the sites GP Access Hubs are available or make it clear how to gain access to them. Very few websites provide the Greenwich Health flyer on GP Access Hubs or offer a link to it.
- Ten GP practices offer patients the opportunity to leave feedback using their website, but it cannot be viewed publicly. One website gives patients the opportunity to leave online feedback on the surgery site, and a further website offers a link to Healthwatch Greenwich feedback centre, to leave comments online to be viewed by other service users. This is particularly disappointing. Healthwatch Greenwich has a statutory function to drive improvements in health and social care by gathering the views and experiences of patients and the public and making people’s views known. All GP practices have access to our free Patient Feedback Widget which helps services collect and listen to the experience of their patients by placing the feedback tool directly on their website.
- 26 websites give information on how to make a complaint. Patients are offered multiple ways of doing this such as calling, emailing or writing to the Practice Manager. Most websites offer an online form to be completed and sent electronically. Four websites make it particularly difficult by offering forms that can’t be completed online and must be downloaded, printed in hard copy, and then sent in by post or by hand to the practice. Two websites make it harder still as they don’t offer an online form despite suggesting they do. Few websites offer alternatives for service users who don’t want to complain directly to the practice.
- 28 websites mention their PPG, but few go beyond that. Most don’t offer explanatory information on what a PPG is, or how to join it. None provide future dates for their next PPG meeting and only nine give contact details. Several websites offer a historical report of their last PPG meeting, dating to 2015 – 2017, and two websites give the date of their next PPG meeting as more than a year in the past. Website evidence suggests either PPGs at these practices don’t exist in any meaningful fashion or that websites are rarely updated.
- Four websites provide information about Healthwatch Greenwich. Three suggest Healthwatch Greenwich is a useful contact for feedback and complaints. One website provides a Healthwatch Greenwich Enter and View report.
- 27 websites offer a translation facility, usually Google Translate, which instantly converts website pages into one of over 100 languages.
- Only one website gave information on how to get an interpreter at appointments. Given the diversity of patients in Greenwich, we are surprised not to find information on interpreting services on all surgery websites.
- The Care Quality Commission monitors health and social care services to ensure they meet essential standards of quality and safety. They do this by inspecting services and publishing the findings of inspections, along with providing an overall rating of the service, and individual ratings for 5 aspects of care10 . All service providers, by law, must display their CQC ratings where service users can see them. Additionally, if the service provider has a website, they must also display their ratings on there11 . Of the 31 websites we audited, 24 provide a link to their latest CQC report and 23 display their CQC rating.
- Several practices display an out of date rating for the GP Patient Survey on their website. Most websites don’t include their most recent GP Patient Survey Rating, with only two providing this.
Providing information on GP websites can be a quick and easy alternative for service users to access the information they need, without having to contact their practice by phone, email or in person. As part of our work on the NHS Long Term Plan13 , residents told us they are often confused by health information on the internet and are unsure what sites or sources can be trusted. GP websites can be a useful source of reliable information for patients. They can help reassure patients and appropriately direct them to seek further help and support when needed. Having assessed 31 GP websites, and 3 NHS overviews, we found that the breadth and depth of information offered, and how easy it is to find, varies widely. The best websites not only provided detailed information but made it easy to find with information signposted in under logical/appropriate headings.