Practice websites

Version 1, 20 December 2022

This guidance is part of the Online patient facing services section of the Good practice guidelines for GP electronic patient records.

A GP practice website is a repository of information about the practice itself, with links to wider primary care and community information and services.

The GP contract regulations for 2020  require GPs to have both an online presence, such as a website, and an NHS.UK GP profile page.

Both must be updated at least once a year, or sooner if key information changes.

This article complementsNHS England guide for practices on creating highly usable and accessible websites for patients, which is the place to go for more detailed information about the practicalities of website design and management. 

This article provides some additional content and should be read in conjunction with the NHSE guidance.

Usable and accessible practice websites

The NHS England guide is based on research undertaken at the end of 2021.  

The content comprises four sections:

  • getting ready, e.g. looking at what patients use a GP website for, how to get feedback from patients on a current site, the importance of keeping information up to date, using the NHS identity, accessibility standards
  • if you’re using a tendering process for a new website supplier, with sections on what to include in an invitation to tender (ITQ) and how to screen suppliers
  • designing a highly usable website, including decluttering, updating, navigation, structure, and why you might not want a ‘news’ page
  • contractual requirements of a GP website

There is also a helpful appendix listing suggested functionality.

Helping patients access your web-based information

As well as thinking about structure and the design of your web-based information, you should remember that some patients may not have English as their first language.  Other patients may not have the access to the technology, or the skills, they need to make use of your online presence.  There is an article in this series on digital inclusion and another on digital skills for patients.

Translation tools

Most internet browsers include some form of translation service, for example Google Translate (Chrome and Firefox), TranslateMe (Safari), ImTranslator (Opera) and Translator (Microsoft Edge).  In addition, there are many free translation software packages and apps available.

Automated online translating systems or services such as Google Translate should, however, be avoided in healthcare settings as there is no assurance of the quality of the translations. 

Videos and audio in different languages

Some practices have also produced short video or audio clips in the range of languages spoken by their patients.  These have proven very popular, especially if recorded by the practice staff they know. An example of this can be seen on Page Hall Medical Centre’s YouTube channel

Learning to use the internet

There lots of places where people can learn how to use the internet and access digital information and services.  Many courses are provided by local authorities, colleges, and charities.  A good place for patients to start looking for information about local help and support is a local library, but there are many others that offer free training and help, for example:

  • the Online Centres Network, which has around 6,000 centres in the UK providing access to and advice on computers and the internet and aims to tackle digital exclusion.
  • Age UK who help older people get online and who provides free training courses.  Information on their IT training courses is on their website or from their freephone advice line 0800 678 1174.

Requirement to maintain an NHS.UK profile page

From 01 April 2020, practices have been required to keep their NHS.UK profile information updated at least once every 12 months and as soon as there are any changes or key information updates, such as:

  • the address of any of the practice premises
  • practice telephone numbers
  • practice email address
  • any other stated means by which a patient may contact the practice to book or amend an appointment, or to order repeat prescriptions for drugs, medicines or appliances

NHS England is developing the GP profile pages, including releasing a profile editor to make it easier for practices to update their information. 

Data protection, data processing, and privacy notices

As curators of patient records, GP practices are ‘data controllers’.  This means that they are required to ensure that patient information is used in accordance with data protection legislation.  The requirement includes being transparent about how and why personal data is processed. 

The Information Commissioner’s Office has produced  a guide called ‘What does it mean if you are a data controller? which explains roles and responsibilities.

Informing patients of how their information will be used and their rights is, therefore, essential.  GP practices must publish a privacy notice that includes:

  • a statement of your purposes (including the legal bases) for processing their personal data, how long you will keep it, and who it will be shared with
  • details of any third parties who might process personal data on behalf of the GP practice and the activities they are carrying out
  • a description of how patients can exercise their rights including:
    • the right of access to their information, for example your procedure for subject access requests
    • how to flag inaccurate data and the process for correcting/removing this
    • how to object to information sharing and choices in relation to information sharing such as the national data opt-out
  • an explanation of how the practice might communicate with patients, for example by using SMS texts and emails and patients’ rights to express a preference or object to being contacted in these ways

Further information is available in the General Medical Services (GMS) contract.

Other helpful resources