BBC Newsflash: Receptionists ‘put people off seeing doctor’ “

If it wasn’t obvious to you before, this alone should teach you how the standards of journalism at the BBC have fallen over recent decades.  It should also tell you the average age of the ill-educated muppets they employ these days, lest you should imagine anyone over the age of thirty needed a news story under such a headline.
receptionThe rest of us have been bemoaning this situation since, well, since we first had to make a doctor’s appointment for anyone in our family.

The presumption most of us have been labouring under for the last fifty years or so, is that doctors don’t actually like patients and the last thing they want is to have any of them cluttering up their surgeries or, heaven forbid, interrupting their round of golf.  If that weren’t the case they’d put a little more effort into recruiting decent staff and giving them guidance on how to perform their role in the practice, wouldn’t they?

If this article ended at incompetence, ignorance and immaturity, I could laugh it off but when it strays into downright (but very illuminating) lies, misinformation, misunderstanding and reinforcement of some of the most critical social ills in our land, I have to speak out.

“Receptionists quizzing patients about why they need to see their GP could be putting some sick people off visiting their surgery, a survey suggests.”.  I kid you not, they actually wasted calories dreaming up this sentence but that’s as nothing compared to the idiocy of whoever it was that felt the need to waste oodles of someone’s money and boundless more calories conducting a survey from which to arrive at this conclusion.  They do realise that energy is a finite resource and we can’t afford to waste calories in this way, don’t they?

“Experts say patients must be forceful and not take no for an answer if they have symptoms that need investigating.”  but then “The government says it is funding training to help receptionists learn how to be sensitive to patients’ needs.”.  That is bureauspeak for well, pure bollocks really.  Having just lectured the rest of you I’m hardly going to expend more calories than necessary conjuring with polite phrases to describe such nonsense.

The “journalist” then conjures up the next bit from his or her own deluded little brain with, as far as we can tell, no help whatsoever from the government, a basic education or any exposure to the real world:

“Receptionists are the first point of contact in primary care and it is their job to decide which patients should see the GP and how urgently.

They do a vital job, but feedback from patients reveals some can be off-putting.”

“Vital?”  Vital to whom?  I’m sure every clerical trainee in the world will be thrilled to know how “vital” their role is and hey, without having to waste ten long years of education, training and standing on drafty picket lines waving daft posters around and chanting the Hari Krishna or whatever blather was coming out of their vocal chords last time I looked. “Vital” ????

…but lest I get overly distracted by a lone adjective, let’s go back to the preceding sentence, the one about the job description of a doctor’s receptionist.

If evidence was needed of just how corrupted the minds of the British public have become on the subject of the NHS, this feral writer expressed it perfectly with that statement: “… it is their [the receptionist] job to decide which patients should see the GP and how urgently”.  NO THAT IS NOT THEIR JOB.

That’s may be how they make people feel and, I’m sure, how some of them are trained to behave, if it doesn’t come naturally.  The role you describe falls to the patient, alone.  They may seek the advice of a doctor at some point, to assist their decision making process but I hope they’ll never seek advice from a clerical employee who has not completed ten years of medical training or even thirty seconds of education in compassion.

The job of the receptionist, though it may come as a surprise to most of them is, I would contend:

To greet every caller in a polite, pleasant and respectful way; by their behaviour and demeanour to best represent the good name and reputation of the practice that employs them; to provide the caller with such advice and assistance as may be appropriate given the nature of the caller’s enquiry; to assist the caller to obtain an appointment with the most appropriate member of the practice team (doctor, practice nurse, specialist care person, etc) based on the information volunteered by the caller and finally, to do all this in accordance with the policies and procedures laid down by her employer, the practice.

If my rapid precis doesn’t float your boat, here’s another more considered version: . Even the NHS Careers web site offers better guidance but it confesses openly that “There are no set entry requirements to become a receptionist.”.  What, no medical training at all?  So how the sweet jesus are they supposed to “decide which patients should see the GP and how urgently”?  Of course, they are not and they never were but this muppet out of kindergarten who doesn’t realise the position of responsibility he/she assumes when charged with writing factual information on the BBC news web site couldn’t be expected to know that, could they?  I mean, it took almost two minutes of my time to dig that up for you.

If the receptionist fails in any part of the above, it is the practice that is responsible and it is to them that the complaint and the remedy falls.  Individuals, of course, should take personal responsibility in all things but perhaps we’ll have to wait another millennium or two for that one.

It is that very thing, though, that we as users of these services must understand because we have a responsibility to ourselves, foremost and to society in general.  Our bodies and our health are our personal responsibility, we should never outsource that to the NHS or to anyone else.  Learn about your symptoms, your condition, about health in general and when all your research and contemplation tells you that this is something for which you feel you need of the services of an expert,  doctor or a nurse, then go and get it.  (I would add, be prepared to pay for it but that leads us into a diversionary debate).


Once upon a time this was very difficult to achieve but not any more, every aspect of human knowledge lies at our fingertips.  In their spare time, perhaps receptionists could assist more qualified educationalists to hold classes teaching those that were also failed by our education “system” how to competently go about that research.  Now there’s a thought, if you want your public to have better health and to ease the demands on the NHS, train them.

I am delighted to see that this BBC news item is flagged as “trending”, thus indicating how many people felt the headline touched on something they have experience of.  I’ve been talking about it for over thirty years, perhaps in another thirty, something might improve and I won’t delay eighteen months before seeking medical treatment for my lung cancer.

Letter to my GP surgery…hello?


Dear Sirs,

Not for the first time I find it necessary to make my feelings known with regard to the mechanism for obtaining an appointment at Langley Corner surgery.  I’ve heard all the platitudes before, “it works very well”, “other people like the system”, and so on.  It works well for the practice, it does not work well for the patients, their employers or, frankly, any other stakeholders such as the Urgent Treatment Centre, Accident & Emergency Department, etc.

Let me give you some specifics.  In February 2012 I was diagnosed with a NSCLC tumour on my right lung.  By a stroke of immense good luck it was only Stage II and thus, by definition, had not metastasised.  The fact is that I had been putting off visiting the surgery to check out my persistent nocturnal cough because I was too busy to have to take part in the daily gymkhana you organise each morning.  This is the event where patients/clients/taxpayers are supposed to delay or cancel their journey to work so that they can be at home, able to make a tedious series of telephone calls to the surgery, the vast majority of which are greeted with an engaged signal, in a desperate attempt to be one of the lucky ones to a) get their call answered and b) the even fewer to hold the lucky Lotto ticket to get to see a doctor that day.  Of course, having cancelled their trip to work, many then have to take another day off so they can subject themselves to your sordid game-playing all over again, the following day.  Frankly, I consider it abusive and I have no intention of subjugating myself to this despicable practice.  It was eighteen months before I could bring myself to play this silly game and if you think I’m the only one who puts it off, even when it’s potentially as serious as it was for me, you’re kidding yourselves and doing a huge disservice to the very people who pay your salaries.

You eventually commissioned a web site, one using 1990’s technology, and offered an appointment booking system there but that too has strict limitations on how one may book an appointment and we are specifically barred from making an appointment for that day or the next.


What a complete waste of money and when, on earth, will someone commission a modern day replacement, something akin to the average two-bit restaurants?

In 2005 I recall Tony Blair being questioned in front of a Question Time audience and discovering to his amazement that one couldn’t simply pick up the telephone and book a doctor’s appointment.  More than ten years later there’s been absolutely no improvement.  There is no commercial enterprise on the planet that would still be in business one year down the line, let alone ten, if it deigned to treat its customers in such a disrespectful and condescending manner as this.  Every business or other organisation in the world manages to organise a working appointment system, I cannot conceive that it is beyond the wit of a group of clever individuals such as a medical practice to achieve the same outcome, if they only put their minds to it.  It is one of the reasons why I so despise the way in which health services are delivered within the NHS.  It’s the attitude that we are getting something for free, that doctors’ needs are paramount and that we, the clients, will just fall into line with whatever arcane process is made available to us.  Well, I pay significantly more to the NHS than I do for my own private health insurance which, as you might imagine, has risen significantly since my two recent cancer diagnoses. I’m paying expensively for your services and then I’m paying all over again so that I don’t have to use them.  I can cope with that but I refuse to be treated like some kind of beggar pleading for the very service for which I am paying through the nose.

I don’t choose to use you, you have an effectively monopoly or near monopoly, I am obliged by your trade union rules to use you.  I can even cope with that, if you would simply do me the courtesy of bearing in mind the incredible competitive advantage you have been gifted rather than abusing it and me with these ridiculous procedures.  So, let’s turn to this week.

On my file you hold several letters from the senior Dermatology Consultant, Dr. Susie Morris, whom I pay privately.  In those letters Susie Morris documents the medications she has prescribed for my psoriasis, the ones I usually purchase privately at my own expense.  Knowing that I am soon to need further supplies of Dovobet gel and knowing that my wife intended to make an appointment to see a doctor at the surgery, I asked her if she would request a prescription for this small but essential item.  I don’t care if I have to pay for it but I can’t get hold of it without a prescription.  My wife wasn’t able to get her appointment (and thus ended up at the Urgent Treatment Centre yesterday for four hours) but she did make a telephone request for my prescription which was accepted.  Yesterday I received a text asking me to call the surgery with regard to this request, which I did.  I was advised that “the doctor” had requested a face to face meeting before agreeing the prescription, despite the fact that my records show it has been prescribed by my consultant who, were there any doubt, could have been called for confirmation.  All of which would have been faster, simpler and less costly for all concerned than a text, a phone call and a doctor’s appointment……  I was told to ring the next day at 8:30, I refused.  I was told I couldn’t have an appointment until sometime in August.  I was told I couldn’t have a telephone appointment until next Tuesday.  I told the lady not to bother.

I emailed my consultant and within five minutes a prescription was winging its way to me in the post.  Sure, it cost me another twenty pounds but I’d happily pay fifty to avoid being subjected to this demeaning process of yours.  That said, I do resent it.  I pay enormous amounts of tax to support your income, I pay again for my health insurance, I pay for my own consultants’ visits and for my medications – even though I have an exemption card as a result of my cancer.  All I asked for was a wretched piece of paper and mountains had to me made out of molehills.  People wonder why the NHS is so desperately short of cash, you don’t have to look very far, do you?

I am sure you are all very lovely and well-meaning people.  I’m equally sure you will not appreciate the tone of this letter.  I’m afraid I don’t have the time or patience to waste time on frivolous pleasantries when I’m already annoyed that I should have to waste more time writing the darn thing.  Perhaps, once you’ve put your own considerations to one side you might stop and think about the nuggets of crucial information I am delivering, free of charge and recognise that there are better ways to do things, that your current ways are self-serving, disrespectful, offensive and wasteful.  I just happen to be in the minority of people that will bother/dare to tell you so but I’m also the tip of an iceberg.  A little business-like attention to such matters would improve your lives as well as ours.  There would be less time wasted in the workplace, less burdens placed on A&E and other facilities, more money in your pockets.  It’s not rocket science.

….if I get a reply I’ll update this blog….yawn….