Dear Doctor

Do you have a Rottweiller in yourCartoon angry dog of breed a Rottweiler. surgery?

Recently the media has been full of stories about patients unable to book GP appointments; one barrier could be Receptionists who manage to put us off.

If we need to see a GP, one reason can be embarrassing symptoms.  Or we might not be sure – but think we need to get checked out.  Either way, when a non-medical person asks us why we need to see you, we don’t like going in to details.  We know you are working your socks off, but having to explain to the Rottweiller why we need an appointment can be upsetting and/or embarrassing.

Or, perhaps we are cheesed off with NHS bureaucracy;  but aren’t getting help. This week the local hospital told me I am no longer allowed to book top-up pain-killing injections – I have to go back to my GP to get a referral.

I am in a lot of pain when I phone the Surgery, and get a teeth-baring Rottweiller asking questions.  These get more and more time-wasting, until a final question makes me exclaim WHAT? loudly.

“I shall put the phone down if you shout at me”, comes back down the phone.

Yes, she is entitled to say this, but doesn’t she understand I am in pain? and not happy being told I can’t have a referral but have to wait in for the doctor to call me  back at an unspecified time, meaning more delays.

As it happens, because this is a follow-up referral, having waited all day for the doctor to call, at 6.30 pm I get an email saying she has referred me to Choose and Book, Phew!


Apparently I am not alone with my worries – Elvira tells me of the day she woke up and realised her troubling symptoms were probably cancer.  “I lay in bed, wondering whom to call :  if it were my NHS GP the Receptionist would bark “you can’t see a doctor for three weeks (in London this wait is normal). So I called my private GP (even though I couldn’t really afford it) as I knew his lovely Receptionist would soothe me down, take up that I was worried, and fit me in that day.  Which she did”.

Judging by the numbers now consulting Babylon and other private providers, she is not alone.

Pros and cons

Let’s focus on the positives – and explore how we can all make new ways work to everyone’s advantage.  Could I start by asking if the Rottweillers that guard you could be given training in customer care?

I trawl around the Internet, looking for ideas to help Surgery Receptionists understand how to handle patients, and come across this statement on a surgery website:

The surgery supports the Governments “Zero Tolerance” policy and will not tolerate slamming down phones, sarcastic tone, aggression, swearing, inappropriate demeanor or any other unacceptable behaviour towards staff or other persons present on the premises. Patients are given warning and/or removed from the surgery list immediately

Obviously aimed at abusive patients.  But nowhere can I find anything about Receptionists understanding why we might slam down phones, etc.

Empathy means the ability to understand and share the feelings of another; in other words put yourself in the other person’s shoes. When dealing with unhappy. confused or angry people, this is such an important word.
Understanding why a patient is repeating themselves, shouting, getting agitated etc. goes a long way by sympathising with their plight.  When being taught to welcome Aussie visitors to London, I was warned that they often experienced flight delays which meant they could have been cooped up for over 24 hours.  When they fell off the plane they looked for someone on whom to vent their anger i.e. Me.
Their opinions were very forthright, but the best way to handle this was to ‘go with the flow’, give a small smile and lots of “I am sorry to hear that” – which didn’t promise anything but showed a sympathetic face.  Next morning they would come down to breakfast with apologies and smiles and were delightful.
A little TLC goes a long way – could Rottweillers copy this system and emphasise with us – please! The Minister has just announced £250 million is to be available to help gain better access to GPs, so as Dennis Reed of Silver Voices says, “There now needs to a period of cool reflection and discussion on the practicality of the Government’s plans and whether the proposals will actually deliver a timely face-to-face appointment if the patient so chooses.
Instead of conflict at the reception desk, there should be a friendly discussion about the options”. 
Rottweillers Take Note!