GP receptionist reveals what the job REALLY entails

Receptionists at GP surgeries often bear the brunt of patients’ frustration when they cannot get appointments, with some people saying their local practice staff are deliberately obstructive and rude.

Now a 12-year-old receptionist at a practice in the UK has taken to Mumsnet to reveal what the job really entails, answering questions from users about everything from why patients are asked to explain their problem over the phone when they call to make an appointment, to what doctors do when they don’t see patients.

She said she was ready to take some criticism, having read ‘dozens of previous threads where we’re called lazy, rude, power nuts, b*****s and more’.

“I can’t speak for all the other receptionists!” I’ve met some good ones and some bad ones too, I can’t deny the fact that there are people who aren’t suited for their roles,” she said.

“I’ve done this job for 12 years, it’s hard work but can be extremely rewarding at times. I’m on minimum wage. I’m free to look for a better paid job, but I’m here because I love my job and do my best.

A 12-year-old receptionist at a practice in the UK spoke to Mumsnet to reveal what the job really entails (stock image)

It’s more than answering the phone

“I deal with chemists, pharmacists, hospital secretaries, emails, post, hundreds of clinical letters and test reports, arrange all referrals, make all test requests and I types all letters from clinicians,” the receptionist explained.

‘New patient records are filled in, departing patient records are to be found and returned, clinical letters received are scanned, coded and processed, requests for translators, letters to be typed and patients to be called to arrange examinations , smears, etc., the loan of medical equipment.

“There’s a lot more, but I hope you understand that my job involves a lot more than answering the occasional phone call.”

“Hand on heart, I do everything I say and answer the phone, take deliveries, meter readings, sample collections and still find time to help crippled patients get to their taxis at the outside. I am not joking. I come home exhausted because I really can’t stop.

Why do dates “magically appear”?

“I have read a lot of complaints here that you call and there is no appointment. Then lo and behold, after more conversation, an appointment is found. It’s because I can register it as an urgent call,” she explained.

“If this is NOT an urgent call I will be reprimanded by my manager and if this continues I may lose my job.”

I’m just not allowed to continually add more and more patients to add as “extras”. They’re called extras because there really aren’t any appointments anymore.

Why does the receptionist need to know about your medical condition?

The receptionist explained that people often get irritated when asked to explain why they need to see the doctor.

People often think, “You’re not a medical professional, why are you asking me that?”, but she explained that asking the question “saves time and appointments.”

“I never make a clinical decision! It is a fact. The triage I do is just to make sure patients are booked with the clinician best suited to their needs,” she said.

“I should add that I always ask ‘Can I ask what this is about or is it personal?’ to make it easy to just say personal, as is their right.

She explained that in her practice, only the nurse does Pap tests, so if the person phones and makes an appointment with the doctor without explaining why, they will not get their test.

Only one doctor performs the fitting of the coils, likewise she needs to know if that is the reason for the appointment.

If someone has chest pain and difficulty breathing, she will put them on hold and call a GP to explain the symptoms and name the patient.

“GP makes the decision to book or call 999. I then call back regularly to make sure the ambulance has been called and reiterate that please call me back if the symptoms get worse or they are scared.

“If symptoms worsen or there are long delays with the ambulance, I will call the ambulance service and ask for updates and let them know how serious the situation is.”

If it’s a missing prescription, she needs to talk to the pharmacist.

I will check that it has indeed been sent to the pharmacy. if not, I’ll order it – whatever time of day. We ask patients to ring for prescriptions after 10:30 a.m. until 6 a.m. but this is not set in stone.

“A lot of times people have to go to work, go to school, make other appointments – plus it saves another 10:30 call.”

What do doctors do all day if they see fewer patients?

The receptionist explained that when they are not seeing patients in person, the GP can make telephone appointments or take calls from other services relating to patients, such as the ambulance team, social workers , probation services, addiction services and MacMillan nurses.

The Covid has led to a rise in telephone and virtual consultations, but this does not necessarily save time.

“A phone consultation takes as long as a face-to-face appointment – ​​so no, GPS is no less than pre-covid times. Much more, because I’m sure any GP will agree,” she said.

She added that there was “heaps and piles of paperwork” to do, as well as prescriptions, sick notes and “reading and processing every letter received, whether by postman, internal mail or through electronic”.

They should also check any blood test results that come in and make house calls.

Trust me, I wouldn’t want to be a doctor and I understand why so many people leave,” she said. “Our doctors are working hours and hours from home in the evenings and on weekends – just to catch up. When I close to go home, the doctors are still there!

Do staff judge patients who constantly come into the practice?

“Yes, we can see how many times you have visited the practice, but we are not judging.

‘Frankly! I would treat you exactly the same whether you called every week or once a decade – it’s not for me to judge anyone.

Someone asked earlier if some callers make me moan internally – I have to be honest and say YES, but that’s only when I’m up to my ears with work and desperate to sort something out

So meanwhile, if I get a caller I know who just wants to chat (we have a lot of people who are alone), my heart drops because I really hate having to rush them so I can finish what I’m doing.

I always chat with patients because sometimes they mention things they don’t know we can help with, like social prescribing – that’s where they get a phone call every week to see how they’re doing and get some help with forms, adult social services, occupational therapy and more.

“The social prescribers are not based in my office, but I pass on the details. – with the patient’s permission of course.

Do receptionists have the power to be more helpful?

The unnamed woman said that although the receptionists were seen as being deliberately obstructive, they were just doing their job and not trying to stand between you and see a GP.

“I have no power over how the surgery is handled and I don’t see myself as the guardian of the dragon gate,” she said.

“I’m just the messenger who passes on all the messages and lets the actual clinicians use their judgment on how to deal with it.

“I get paid to listen and act on any concerns raised by a patient.

“Perhaps there are cabinets that actively want a fierce guardian to cut their own work!”

“I can only talk about my own surgery and how I do my job – it seems like I work in a fabulous surgery where we are all focused on patient care, kindness, respect and consideration.”

What happens if the receptionist is wrong?

A Mumsnet user explained that she called her doctor’s office to make an appointment because she was having a miscarriage.

She waited all day for a phone consultation hoping to be referred to the early pregnancy unit, but the call never came.

“I called to drive him away after waiting all day. The receptionist (different person now) said quite abruptly that the GPs couldn’t refer me to the EPU anyway, so there was no point in making an appointment.

“If I suffered from sepsis or some other unpleasant effect of an incomplete miscarriage, what would and should happen to the receptionists? Would they be subject to disciplinary misconduct? Would they lose their jobs?

“I’m really interested if a receptionist is able to prevent a medical situation from escalating and decides not to take that action – what happens to them?”

The receptionist expressed her condolences and agreed that it was unacceptable that she had to wait all day and never got her appointment.

“During our surgery, if this happened, it would be investigated – the receptionist would receive more training – and a warning,” she said. ‘It seems very soon after what you’ve been through.

‘I’m discussing the appt not reserved for you here, not if you have sepsis – honestly don’t know what would happen if the consequences of their actions/lack of had been worse) I’m just grateful that the worst didn’t happen it doesn’t happen.

Please raise these concerns with the Practice Director so you can get the answers you need.

In another comment, she added: ‘All calls are recorded so if anyone gave incorrect advice or advice they are not medically trained to give they would be tracked down.’

Comments are closed.