Inadequate Budgets Mean GP Receptionists are Left to Vet Patients

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The Law Of... getting to see your doctor

One of the major barriers to seeing a GP, according to the participants in a new survey, is speaking to a receptionist about symptoms. Daxa Patel, a Medical Negligence Solicitor and Partner at Simpson Millar, questions why this is being allowed to happen and what it means for patient care in the UK.

The Law Of... getting to see your doctor

Made to Feel Embarrassed

When you are feeling off colour or are suffering with symptoms that might be related to something more serious, you should be able to phone your doctors surgery and make an appointment without being made to feel embarrassed or as though you are a making a big fuss about nothing.

Unfortunately, this isn't so for an increasing number of people, with almost 40% of those who took part in a survey for Cancer Research UK saying a dislike of having to speak to the receptionist beforehand was a factor in preventing them from visiting their GP. It came third behind difficulties getting an appointment with a particular doctor and getting an appointment at a convenient time.

Cause for Concern

Although the role of receptionists in primary care is an extremely valuable one that shouldn't be denigrated, the thought that patients are being put off seeing a qualified medical professional by non-medically trained members of staff is a serious cause for concern.

Chief among the reasons given for this reluctance to speak to a receptionist were:

  • Not wanting to talk to the receptionist about symptoms – 39.5%
  • Not wanting to be seen as somebody who makes a fuss – 34.8%
The former is understandable, as people might well be embarrassed to speak to a non-medical individual about sensitive symptoms they already have to pluck up the courage to tell their doctor about.

Unfortunately, due to the inadequate funding the NHS receives, doctors surgeries are facing the same pressures as A&Es in having to see more people on thinner budgets, making appointments harder and harder to come by – consultations are up by 60 million more per annum compared to 5 years ago. As such, some practices are now requiring their reception staff to act as a form of improvised triage, vetting patients and determining the urgency with which they should see the GP. Which begs the question: are they qualified or do they have the training to decide if the patient should be offered an appointment?

Even though this is the case in some oversubscribed surgeries, the fact it could lead to somebody missing out on an early diagnosis because they require the privacy of a consulting room is unforgivable and unacceptable

As is the fact some patients are put off phoning for an appointment because they think they will be perceived as making a fuss. If it is the attitude of the receptionist at the end of the line causing this anxiety, then the reliance on untrained staff to quiz patients isn't working.

Daxa comments:

"Most people only trouble their GP when they feel it's necessary, so it's sad if they have to fight to get an appointment. Sadly, due to diminishing budgets, this is now more and more common, the upshot of which could be damaging for healthcare in the UK. We deal with many medical negligence cases in which patients have suffered long term consequences, some even dying, where an early diagnosis could've made all the difference."

"Non-medical staff should not be putting people off seeing their doctor. The GP is, after all, the first port of call for most when they feel they need medical advice or help."

"It can't be cost-effective in the long run for the NHS, let alone right for patient care, to be putting people off or turning them away from seeing the one person who might be able to help them, their GP."


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