During October and November 2021, Healthwatch volunteers and staff reviewed all of the GP websites and out-of-hours phone messages across East Sussex for quality, clarity and presentation of information, with websites also assessed for ease of navigation. This report provides a summary of the findings, together with a number of recommendations.

By Healthwatch East Sussex

Our review found significant variation in the content, navigability and accessibility of GP websites across the county.

Whilst the majority contain appropriate content, this is often challenging to access (especially from tablets and phones), which may lead people to revert to phoning their surgery. Similarly, out-of-hours phone messages were found to provide minimal information to those people seeking support when surgeries were closed.

  • Three quarters of GP websites were rated as excellent or very good for clarity of information, but only if you could find it, with just a third of sites similarly rated for ease of navigation.
  • More than half of websites did not possess Text-to-speech software or other accessibility functions.
  • Only half of GP websites displayed ‘very well’ on a tablet and a third on a mobile phone.
  • Most out-of-hours phone messages were found to be very short in duration (30 seconds or shorter) and provided minimal signposting information, with eight out of ten rated as adequate/poor for usefulness.

John Routledge, Executive Director of Healthwatch East Sussex commented:

“Websites and phone messages may not be viewed as a top priority when health and care services are under pressure but they play an important role in supporting people to make informed decisions and get to the right service as quickly as possible.

Having clear, consistent and accessible messaging on how, where and when people can and should access services or self-care has an important role in managing the demand placed on GPs and other health providers.”

The findings and 10 recommendations in our report are aimed at supporting NHS Commissioners and GPs to understand what is currently good about websites and messages, but also how these may be improved for the benefit of both service providers and users.

We are calling for:

  • Greater involvement of lay people and their representatives in the development and testing of websites and messages, to ensure that they deliver what people want and need to know.
  • Improved consistency in the core information provided across GP practices, especially around appointments, triage processes and opening hours, including any likely delays people may experience.
  • Improved Home Page design and the universal inclusion of search functionality to aid navigation and publication dates to indicate the age of content.
  • Regular audits to ensure websites and phone messages meet the NHS Accessibility Standard and information is also provided on the accessibility of GP surgeries. We would also like to see improved compatibility with tablets/mobile phones given priority.
  • More emphasis on making Care Quality Commission reports and ratings, patient feedback information, data protection and privacy policies, and complaints processes visible and accessible.

A spokesperson for NHS East Sussex CCG said:

“We would like to thank Healthwatch East Sussex for this valuable report, which highlights the positive work that GP practices are doing in terms of their websites and their phone systems, and also clear areas for further improvement.

“We recognise how important it is that people can access helpful, informative and supportive information about health services, especially when they need help or care. We are already working with our GP practices to consider the vital role their websites have in terms of supporting their patients and will be working with practice teams over the coming year to help practices make positive changes. We are also developing new telephony systems for practices, which will facilitate easier and more timely access, and this will be rolling this out by mid-2022. 

“We would welcome the opportunity to continue to work with Healthwatch to assess the impact of these changes and improvements, and to ensure that their other recommendations to improve information and access for patients are taken forward.”

As the public champion for local health and care services, Healthwatch East Sussex will continue to work in partnership with commissioners and providers to monitor the experiences of patients and the public in accessing health and care services locally and explore how ongoing development may be delivered.

View the report

Click the link below to download the report

Mystery Shopping of GP websites and out-of-hours messages in East Sussex. How informative and accessible are they? - Full Report Download File (pdf 2.26 MB)
Mystery Shopping of GP websites and out-of-hours messages in East Sussex. How informative and accessible are they? - Summary Report Download File (pdf 357.46 KB)

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