Foundation trusts' communications skills have been called into question after it was revealed that four in 10 trust websites lacked basic information on service quality.

Research by communications consultancy Precedent found only 58 per cent of sites carried clear information on quality. Only one in three had readily available addresses and directions for services.

Precedent strategist and report co-author Mike Guida said: "The health service is being told performance is the most important thing but that information is not available.

"Maybe the data is a bit alienating. What we sense is that foundation trusts need to interpret it and display it in a way that makes sense.

"A trust may be rated double excellent [by the Healthcare Commission] but that information is not visible. It may be on a press release but that slips away after a few weeks."

Target audience

Sites often appeared to be designed for potential staff or journalists rather than patients, the authors found. A test of how useful the website was for different groups of users revealed they were best suited to potential staff, with vacant posts often listed, and for journalists, with press releases a common feature.

Features specifically aimed at patients - such as directions and being able to comment on services - were available less often. Information aimed at GPs was also rarely available.

Researchers, who analysed the websites of 120 foundations, also found problems with provision for visually impaired people. Only 19 were rated well on accessibility.

Precedent managing editor Adrian Porter said: "They seem to be very good at getting a press release out, but not at interpreting the content of that and knowing where to put it.

"The people who are doing this are often from a public relations background.

"It also suggests that the human resources and PR functions are in charge of the website."

Social media

Examples of innovative sites included Berkshire Healthcare foundation trust, where chief executive Philippa Slinger writes a blog. The website is also one of a handful to allow users to share information through social networking applications such as Facebook.

Websites featuring videos of their premises and patient and staff testimonies include Luton and Dunstable Hospital, Royal Brompton and Harefield and Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals foundation trusts.

HSJ's Fundamentals of Marketing is on 25 February.