The cost of running new Web 2.0 elements of the NHS Choices website was yesterday heavily criticised, on the day British prime minister Gordon Brown praised the plans.
Patients are to be allowed to rate their GP surgeries and post comments on a revamped NHS Choices website later this year, as the government adds new functionality in a multimillion pound scheme.
But Colin Talbot, professor of public policy at Manchester Business School, lambasted the government for investing large sums of public money on a project that the independent sector appeared to do quite well already.
Patient Organisation, a review site already in existence, “is a not-for-profit social enterprise ... and is more likely to be trusted because it is independent of the Department of Health”, Professor Talbot told the Financial Times. Another independent site called Patient Opinion has allowed patients to post reports on hospitals and trusts since 2005.
It would have been wiser for the NHS to link up with one of the existing sites than to spend the public’s cash replicating the same services, he said.
What's more, under the NHS plans, there was a risk that the Department of Health would not act on the comments but instead “sit on and squash” them, he said.
The criticism came on the same day when prime minister Gordon Brown said the government had previously “clearly got the balance wrong” by not allowing more Web 2.0 interactions.
“Government has been much too slow to make use of the enormous democratising power of information," wrote Brown, in the foreword to a key policy document, ‘Working together: Public services on your side’.
“People take it for granted that they will access other people’s reviews and ratings before buying something on eBay or Amazon, and yet we do not yet have systematic access to other people’s experiences when choosing a GP practice or nursery,” he wrote.
A Department for Health spokesperson defended the expenditure on the NHS Choices website, saying patient comment was best used as a guide "when taken in context with other information about services included on the website, such as data on infection rates, waiting times and facilities".
"We work closely with websites such as Patient Opinion on syndication and partnership arrangements," the spokesperson added.
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