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NHS Choices: how we work

Content policy

NHS Choices is committed to the highest editorial and ethical standards in the provision of all its content and related services.

The site is funded by the Department of Health. The content, data and services on NHS Choices are commissioned by NHS England and delivered by NHS Digital. NHS Choices is committed to providing objective and trustworthy information and guidance on all aspects of health and healthcare.

The overall NHS Choices content policy (PDF, 332kb) covers all content, both data-driven directories and comparative data and editorial. The latter includes written articles, video and audio resources, interactive tools, infographics and images.

In all instances, we strive to ensure that data is accurate and clearly presented and that editorial content is evidence-based, in other words, that it is founded on the best scientific knowledge currently available.

The following sections set out our editorial principles, standards and processes.

 

Principles

Accuracy:
NHS Choices content will be accurate, balanced and transparent. Information given will be based on the best available scientific evidence and data sources. Where content contains conjecture or opinion, this will be clearly indicated.

Impartiality and diversity of opinion:
NHS Choices will be objective, impartial and even-handed. Where views differ and no scientific consensus can be found it will reflect all significant strands of opinion and state the uncertainty clearly.

Accountability:
NHS Choices is accountable to its users and will deal fairly with them. It will be open in admitting mistakes and encourages a culture of learning via user feedback. Its editorial processes will be transparent.

Serving the public:
NHS Choices will put its users’ interests first when sourcing and developing content. It will consult widely with relevant professional bodies, patient organisations, charities and other interest groups but serving the ordinary citizen will remain paramount.

Taste and decency:
All content on NHS Choices will be suitable for a general audience and will not include material that might reasonably be deemed offensive. Where content includes explicit sexual information it will be clearly flagged.

Privacy:
NHS Choices views its users’ privacy as paramount and, barring legal order, will not divulge any correspondence or personal information it may hold about them without their prior and explicit permission.

Funding:
NHS Choices is funded by the Department of Health. It does not carry advertising and does not accept corporate sponsorship.

Standards

Staff interests and independence
NHS Choices has a dedicated team of editors and journalists. It operates independently of the site’s marketing and commercial functions and has a clear mandate to produce accurate, balanced and transparent information.

No journalist will be asked, or is permitted, to provide favoured treatment to any partner organisation and all editorial staff must fully disclose any financial or other interests they may have in any healthcare-related companies or organisations. Such interests must be reported to the site’s Director of Data and Information at the time of employment or at the point the interests arise thereafter.

The Director of Data and Information will report any potential conflict of interest to the Clinical Information Advisory Group (CIAG) which will determine what needs to be done to eliminate it. Where content is produced by outside organisations or individuals, NHS Choices requires that such agents make a similar disclosure of outside interests.

Training
All editorial staff are given professional development training to ensure editorial standards are met. Specifically, they are given training under the Critical Appraisal Skills Programme, in the area of evidence-based research and the validation and meaning of health data.

Quality assurance
The CIAG is ultimately responsible for editorial quality standards as they relate to best clinical practice. The CIAG meets regularly and is the approver of the site's editorial process.

The CIAG welcomes feedback with regard to the site’s editorial process, via the ‘Contact’ link at the top of every page on this site.

The Information Standard
NHS Choices has adopted The Information Standard to maintain and improve the information production system and the quality of information on the NHS Choices site.

Editorial process

The editorial process is described in detail in Editorial content processes (PDF, 980kb).

Phase 1 – Research
The evidence-based knowledge that informs all NHS Choices content is derived from peer-reviewed scientific research and from the direct experience of clinicians, other health professionals, patients and the wider public.

In pulling together this knowledge to provide users with a rounded and balanced package of material on a particular subject, NHS Choices requires its journalists to consult the following resources:

For peer-reviewed scientific research, they consult NHS Evidence, which has developed a system for accrediting and classifying different types of research evidence with respect to its quality.

Where knowledge of direct experience is required, they consult:

  • Practising doctors and other clinicians with direct and current experience in dealing with or treating the health issue under investigation,
  • National charities with a recognised expertise and specialist interest,
  • Patients and ordinary members of the wider public who may be directly affected by a topic or issue,
  • Patient organisations,
  • healthtalk.org, a charity website, which is based on qualitative research into patient experiences, led by experts at the University of Oxford.

Resources used in the development of content are available on request, via the ‘Contact’ link at the top of every page on this site.

Phase 2 – Production
Once a piece of content has been researched and drafted, it is edited by a senior member of the NHS Choices editorial team. It is checked for:

  • Accuracy
  • Balance
  • Accessibility
  • Tone

Phase 3 – Clinical check and policy sign-off
There are two stages of sign-off before any single piece of content is published on the NHS Choices website.

  • First, if it contains clinical information it must be read and signed off by an appropriately qualified and experienced clinician,
  • Second, if there is a relevant policy, it must be read by a policy official, either at the Department of Health or at Public Health England, who checks it for alignment with that policy.

Phase 4 – Final editorial checks
Final content is then passed to a sub-editor who checks it for:

  • Common factual errors
  • Spelling
  • Grammar
  • Adherence to house style
  • Overall presentation

Depending on timing and type of content, parts of Phase 3 and Phase 4 may run concurrently.

Review of content
NHS Choices’ content is reviewed systematically. All content is reviewed at least every three years.

Evidence updates to published content as well as feedback from users and stakeholders are considered on a day-by-day basis as they arrive, and content reviewed and amended immediately if necessary.

Publication dates are displayed on all content.

Behind the Headlines
Behind the Headlines provides an unbiased and evidence-based analysis of health stories that make the news. This content follows a slightly different production process.

Feedback and complaints

NHS Choices welcomes feedback on all content on the site. There are two ways to provide feedback:

  • Comments – You can comment on and rate NHS health and social care services on this site. View our comments policy. You can also rate article pages using the ‘Ratings’ facility at the foot of each page.
  • Contact – you can contact us using the NHS Choices feedback form which will go through to our Service Desk team. the team will pass on your feedback to the appropriate NHS Choices editorial team member. Alternatively you can email us via nhschoicesservicedesk@nhs.net.

Complaint process
In the event that a complaint is made about a piece of content that cannot be resolved by the NHS Choices journalist, the matter will be escalated to the site's Director of Data and Information.

Note: NHS Choices is responsible only for the content of this website and any operational issues about it. If you wish to make a complaint about our content or any operational issues, please email complain@nhschoices.nhs.uk. Additionally you can take a look at the NHS Choices complaint process (PDF, 192kb) and for more detailed information see the NHS Choices complaints policy (PDF, 1.04Mb).

Qualified and experienced clinician

All NHS Choices content that contains clinical information must be read and signed off by an appropriately qualified and experienced clinician. This is defined as:

  1. Currently registered with an appropriate professional body, e.g. GMC, NMC.
  2. Currently practising in area of expertise.
  3. Recognised as having specialist expertise in the topic – typically this will be a practising Band 7 or above (nursing and AHPs), Consultant or GP Principal. NHS Choices recognises that other clinicians will have appropriate expertise indicated by post-graduate qualifications or inclusion on a specialist register, and these will be considered on a case by case basis.
  4. No conflict of interest declared to NHS Choices.
  5. Agreed to details being held by NHS Choices.

Decisions about the suitability of clinical expertise are made by the NHS Choices editorial team on a topic by topic basis, based on the above criteria. Should clarification be required about suitability, the NHS Choices Clinical Lead will offer advice and escalate to The Clinical Information Advisory Group (CIAG) if appropriate.

Page last reviewed: 27/08/2015

Next review due: 27/08/2017