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GPs buried under trusts' workload dump

Having to talk to receptionists about symptoms puts people off seeing GP

Being forced to discuss symptoms with practice receptionists is one of the main factors putting patients off from seeing a GP, research has suggested.

In a survey of almost 2,000 people, which looked at the commonly perceived barriers to seeing a GP, some 36.6% of men and 42.6% of women (40% overall) said that they ‘don’t like having to talk to the GP receptionist about my symptoms’.

The Cancer Research UK analysis, published in the Journal of Public Health today, also revealed that the other main barriers to seeing a GP were difficulty in getting an appointment with a particular doctor (36.5% of men and 47.5% of women reported this) or at a convenient time (40.7% of men and 44.9% of women cited this).

Patients from a lower socio-economic background were more likely to report a number of possible ‘emotional’ barriers, such as worrying about what the GP might find, having tests and talking about symptoms, the analysis found. These patients were also more likely to say they would be put off going to their GP if they couldn’t see a particular doctor.

Not wanting to be seen as someone who makes a fuss was a commonly perceived barrier to seeking help across all patient groups (35% overall).

It comes as earlier this year NHS England pledged that £45 million would be invested over five years so that every practice in the country can help their reception and clerical staff play a greater role in care navigation, signposting patients and handling clinical paperwork to free up GP time.

Commenting on the research, RCGP chair Dr Maureen Baker said: 'While GP receptionists are valued members of the practice team and play a pivotal role in delivering patient care, we understand that our patients would prefer to speak to their family doctor about their health, especially if it is sensitive in nature.

‘With GPs making more patient consultations than ever before – 60 million more a year compared to five years ago – GP receptionists ensure the smooth running of the practice and do their best to help patients see a particular GP at a suitable time for them.

But she added that it was 'important to remember that they are not healthcare professionals, and are not in a position to make decisions about our patients' health'.

GPC deputy chair Dr Richard Vautrey said: ‘All receptionists receive training to help ensure that when a patient calls they are given the most effective advice about what appointment they may need, but it is always made clear that are under no obligation to disclose information they are not comfortable with.’

On the issue of early cancer detection Cancer Research UK’s GP expert Dr Richard Roope said that ‘anything that might prevent people from getting their symptoms checked needs to be overcome’.

‘This may mean more emphasis on training front desk staff including receptionists to deal more sensitively with patients.’

Dr Jodie Moffat, lead author and head of early diagnosis at Cancer Research UK, said there was 'still more to learn about the things that may put people off going to their doctor, and how important they are when it comes to actually influencing behaviour'.

She added: ‘But it’s clear that a new sign or symptom, or something that has stayed or got worse over time, needs to be checked out by a GP. The chances of surviving cancer are greater when it’s caught at an early stage, before it’s had a chance to spread, and seeking help sooner rather than later could make all the difference.’

The analysis, ‘Identifying anticipated barriers to help – seeking to provide earlier diagnosis of cancer in Great Britain’, forms part of Cancer Research UK’s Cancer Awareness Measure (CAM), which is a set of questions designed to reliably assess awareness of cancer among the general population.

Readers' comments (18)

  • I quite agree with the ex-receptionist above.

    My reception team are paid just above the "living Wage". It is stuffed from 8am to 6:30pm (and some nights to 8pm). It is not a well paid job, and they rarely get any appreciation. They do not need unrealistic publicity such as this from a condition specific interest group (Cancer network do a lot of good but they are, after all only interested in cancer. We, in general practice have a lot of other things).

    Why don't I pay them more, you ask? Well, if I give my reception staff a pay rise of just £2/hr each, my drawing will plummet to a point where I would be better off shutting shop and working as a salaried GP.

    Perhaps, UK as a nation need to re-educate themselves. We are not in a financial position where patients can choose to see who they like. We can either agree to pay triple the current tax or manage their personal anxiety to access the right care at the right price.

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  • This is down to patient perception. Reception staff are not merely call handlers they are a vital part of the practice team. It needs to be made clear to patients what their role is and that it is necessary for them to access patient records in legitimate circumstances and to support patients in accessing the right support since there is so much more available than just a GP. If a practice has an issue with gossiping receptionists then deal with it under the practice's information governance/ confidentiality policy.

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  • where are those patients who are put off?
    one patient made appointment and wanted me to do hgv exam. one wanted full insurance exam. reception have access to full notes any way so where is problem of secreacy ? may be if patient had ED or depression then he/she can say complaint is of personal nature and reception will not ask any more.

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  • Simple partial solution might be to provide a list of problems. Tick a box and get triaged accordingly. List wont necessarily cover everything but is a start.

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  • My receptionists are all professional, patient centred, trained in confidentiality, pragmatic and have the intuition which comes only with experiencing real people and their real problems daily. It baffles me why anyone would decline to disclose the basics of a consultation request with them, but be happy to blurt out their most intimate secrets online on patient fora and social media. It's about time medical administrators and receptionists are given the credit they deserve. I wouldn't want to do it.

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  • Anonymous | Work for health provider-11 Oct 2016 12:06 pm and
    I agree with you, GP receptionists are blamed for anything and everything. It is GP's business hence GP needs to take lead to protect their receptionist from vile aggressive patients and protect from rottweiler receptionist. I hear many time oh, Dr is nice but shame about the receptionist...!! If it is real private business would the GP hide behind receptionist?
    Same goes with the patients- Patients have to understand that the receptionists are not just the dolly-birds sitting there to make it difficult to see the doctor and take abuse thrown at them from patients. If it's routine appt. pt does not have to give reasons but if it is an emergency then they should tell the receptionist a brief account. Patients will be surprised how astute these properly trained receptionists are. They can spot the emergency and they can alert the doctor or a nurse and can even save lives.
    I made receptionist to apologise to patient and also patient to say sorry to the receptionist when they had overstepped the mark. I was hammered in to me that it's my business, receptionist work for me so I take care of them and also it's the patient who pay our wages being on our list so I respect them.
    -We have a notice in the waiting area and at reception desk: "TREAT AS YOU WOULD LIKE TO BE TREATED"
    As there are awful receptionist there are awful Patients and awful doctors (that includes hospital consultant too)

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  • I wonder ... does the NHS have a plan to get rid of private GP's?
    If they make the GP's work almost impossible, then bring in GP's from overseas, that will work direct for the NHS, then they will have GP's under their control, abide by their contract and do whatever they are asked to do.
    Clever move indeed ...

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  • We aren't the gatekeepers any more, the receptionists are. Those that get through demand everything and complain if they don't, se we are the well oiled turnstiles.

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