Patients to rate and review GPs online

Should Amazon's user comments be a model for improving GP's performance? The government seems to think so...
Should Amazon's user comments be a model for improving GP's performance? The government seems to think so...

The UK government wants to improve performance of GPs by encouraging patients' to post comments about them on an NHS website, according to reports this week.

Health minister Ben Bradshaw has requested that the appropriate software be ready to trial the system in 2009.

The minister told the Guardian that he wants the initiative to "do for healthcare what Amazon has done for the book trade and Trip Adviser for the travel industry: providing positive and negative feedback, warts and all, from consumers."

BMA vehemently disagrees

The British Medical Association vehemently disagrees with the government's plan, claiming that it would put "doctors into a meaningless popularity contest that told patients nothing about medical skill."

Bradshaw claims that: "On NHS Choices there is already some useful information about whether a practice offers extended hours and how it performs on the quality indicators.

"But the quality scores look like the results of an east European election under the Soviet regime. Nearly all get 96%, 97% or 98%. That doesn't really give people an idea of whether the practice is better or worse than others in the area.

Strictly Come Dancing for GPs

"I want people to be able to read comments. It may be that people think the GP is fantastic and they can always get an appointment within 48 hours. Or they may have terrible experiences and think the receptionist is really rude."

"I would never think of going on holiday without cross-referencing at least two guide books and using Trip Adviser," said Bradshaw. "We need to do something similar for the modern generation in healthcare.

Rather strangely (worryingly, for many GPs and the rather more 'stringent' amongst their receptionists) Bradshaw's plan is for anonymous comments about people's GPs and their staff to also be allowed on the site.

Chairman of the BMA's GPs committee, Laurence Buckman is firmly opposed to the plan, noting: "A website on which people can slander or praise irresponsibly is the wrong approach. Patients should be able to choose a doctor, but I don't think this is the way to do it. For example, if I don't give antibiotics for a viral infection because I don't think it is appropriate, the word will get out that I am a tough git. But making them happy is not what I am there for. I am there to make them healthy."

He added: "If you want to survive as a GP, you will encourage patients to vote for you. It will be rather like Strictly Come Dancing."

Adam Hartley