To the GP Receptionists

To the GP Receptionists,

I’ve seen all of you quite a few times, so my experiences are based on a series of interactions over the past few months, and not just a generalised observation.

When we’re ill, you’re the first person patients come across when trying to get medical help, either on the phone or face to face. Knowing this, you’d think you’d be a bit more compassionate. I appreciate you must be incredibly busy, you have lots of stuff to do and are clearly vital in how the practice functions. But a GP surgery is nothing without its patients, we’re the reason you have a job. So when we’re waiting at the desk, make eye contact and smile, ask us ‘how can I help?’, let us explain our reason for being there. Too often, you don’t look up from your computer screen, you briskly bark your orders at us and you cut us off mid sentence.

The thing is, you’ve seemingly never got time to listen to us when we approach the desk, but you manage to moan about other patients to your colleague once you’ve put down the phone. Some patients are going to get on your nerves, it’s unrealistic to expect otherwise. But I don’t think it’s fair that you then complain about them (loudly) to your colleague, quoting parts of the conversation you’ve just had. Especially if you also repeated the patient’s name as part of the phone call so I know exactly who you’re bitching about. I’d like to say this only happened once, but it’s happened pretty much every time I’ve been into the surgery.

You’re also not overly discrete. You talk to your colleagues about prescriptions and patients when you’re doing admin, saying things like ‘oh is that the one who has diabetes?’ Or, the most recent example I heard was ‘oh sorry nurse, they’re in the toilet, suspected UTI’- I mean, really? We all know what that poor woman was in for when she came out of the toilet. It’s not a great feeling thinking you’re being gossiped about, especially if you’re feeling unwell or vulnerable.

Speaking of your ‘suspected diagnoses’, I feel I need to remind you that you’re not actually a doctor. You have no clinical training. A couple of times, I’ve been asking for a test or referral which is completely relevant to my condition and you’ve told me that I have it wrong and tried to give me (inaccurate) medical advice. Also, while I appreciate the need to whittle out the non-urgent patients at the emergency walk in surgery, if I say ‘I’m following the advice given to me by my GP/Consultant/A&E doctor/specialist nurse’ then can you assume I’m here for a good reason rather than demanding a further explanation? Because when I give you the name of my medical condition, you say rudely ‘I haven’t heard of that, are you sure you need to be here?’ and I find myself having to insist that yes, I really do need to be here.

Maybe things are more straight forward with less complex patients. Perhaps I’m being too judgemental about the fact that you clearly have a lot of people who are trying to dupe the system and you have to have developed a thick skin in order to deal with them. But I’m not  one of those people, I come to the practice a lot, and it’s unfair to treat everyone poorly because of the few who cause you problems.

It sometimes feels like you are trying to make my life more awkward rather than trying to facilitate it. I understand that you have systems and protocols, but I am a good patient- I do my best to follow your systems and protocols, I turn up for all of my appointments, I’m always polite and respectful, I hand in my repeat prescriptions with sufficient notice and I follow my Doctor’s advice to the letter. But, despite being a good patient, most of the time I’m not ‘welcomed’ to the practice by a good receptionist.

It’s bad enough having an illness, let alone having to ‘brace yourself’ for interactions with a GP receptionist. I dread to think what you say about me to your colleague when I’m not there. You’re the first person we see when we’re sick, the first person who has the power to get us the help we need, and the person who sets the tone for our experience at the GP practice, and probably the one we have the most contact with. Please remember that.


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