Mystery shopping of GP websites and out-of-hours messagesDownload (PDF 2.32MB)
Summary of report content
Healthwatch East Sussex undertook a review of 52 GP websites and out of hours phone messages to see how informative and accessible they were for people.
Appointment options and triage mechanisms are not always explained on GP practice websites, with some providing limited detail on the options available and how to access them.
Navigation on GP websites varied but was made more complicated by long or ambiguously titled menus and lots of page layers, making content challenging to access. The best examples used a combination of a well organised home page combined with clear menus to guide swift access to content.
Not all websites had search tools or functionality, making it harder to find the content sought quickly and efficiently, especially if the design was complicated. Similarly, where present, search tools were not always easy to find.
Few practice websites referred to any delays or increased wait times for patients as a result of the pandemic or other factors, either when contacting the surgery (especially by phone) or receiving an appointment.
Staff information primarily focused on GPs, rather than other health professionals and practice staff. Contact details were not always publicly available for key individuals such as the practice manager.
Accessibility features and information such as translation services, Browsealoud and details on the physical accessibility of surgeries varied considerably, with these and accessibility statements not featuring on all websites.
Compliance information such as Care Quality Commission (CQC) ratings and reports were not present on all websites, with some examples that were present being out of-date. Similarly, the NHS Friends and Family Test was often visible but often not clearly explained.
Complaint processes, policies and timescales were not always easy to find, often with limited information on how to make a complaint about practices, rather than to a practice.
Feedback mechanisms from patients to surgeries and vice-versa were not always clear and information (e.g. patient surveys results) not regularly shown.
Information on Patient Participation Groups, Healthwatch, Advocacy Services, Carers or Veterans support was present on a majority of GP websites, but often wasn’t easy to find and varied in detail.
COVID-19 information, such as precautions, testing and vaccinations, wasn’t present on all websites and was not always current or up-to-date. Information was a mix of what the practice was/wasn’t doing in relation to COVID-19 vaccinations, how to access vaccinations and COVID-19 precautions when visiting practices face-to-face.
GP websites were not always compatible or user-friendly when accessed from tablets and mobile phones rather than computers.
Calls connected to the practice promptly (generally in 5 rings or fewer). These were generally answered by a human rather than an automated voice and did not provide a menu of options for callers to use.
The content of messages varied, generally including the practice name (but not in all cases), that it was closed, opening hours, and signposting to NHS 111 and 999. A few limited examples provided further information.
Only one message mentioned the triage/appointment process in place at the practice, and only one indicated the possibility of delays or barriers for patients when contacting the practice.
It was difficult to determine how up-to-date practice messages were, as no information on when they were posted is generally provided. Most of the content was regarded as current.
Reviewers felt that messages could generally be improved by slowing down the speed of delivery, making the voice louder and ensuring that background noises were not present.
Overall, messages were found to be factually accurate and generally provide information in a clear and accessible way. However, the information offered was regarded as relatively basic in most cases and offered little that most people would not already be aware of.The report contains 10 recommendations and a response from the CCG