Reports indicate that GPs are being encouraged to dispense with receptionists and start using a NHS call-centre, basically in the belief that it will save money. Letters in some newspapers seem to indicate that the public will support this mainly on the basis that it is always difficult to get through to the local surgery, and when they do, there are never any appointments left. Do they think it will be any better if they have to use a call-centre; if they do, in my view, they definitely need to see a doctor!
Now I won't be as foolish as to claim that the ladies at our surgery are the best, but I do think it would be hard for them to be much better. Yes, it is sometimes hard to get through on the phone, yes, they are sometimes harassed and perhaps a bit stroppy when you call, but I suspect, from what I've seen, some of the patients are far worse.
But they do far more than just make appointments; most of them know the regular patients and which doctor they see before they've even looked at the computer. They know other needs, like the fact that Mrs Smith is disabled and can't get up the stairs to Dr Jones' normal consulting room, and so ensure that one of the ground floor rooms is available. They know my wife needs a blood test every month and prefers a particular nurse and they make the arrangement accordingly. They know the hypochondriacs, and more importantly the opposite, as in the case of a near neighbour who rang up for an appointment not having seen a doctor for more than five years. Which ever one took the call when he rang and asked for "a reasonably urgent appointment" realised that someone who never visits the surgery and makes that type of request, genuinely needs a doctor. (He did, and was admitted to hospital).
When I popped in the other day to get the results of a blood test, neither of us knew what the results meant, but rather than having to make an appointment with the doctor, our receptionist suggested that the nurse might be able to help if I would wait a minute whist she finished with her present patient. She did help, and an unnecessary appointment with the doctor was avoided.
Is a call-centre going to be able to do all these things? Will a call-centre be able to go and chase away delivery lorries & vans parked across the car park entrance? Will a call-centre be able to take a wad of prescriptions along to the pharmasists down the street or indeed deal with requests for repeat prescriptions?
We all know the answer.
One improvement which could be made:
A friend who uses another local surgery can make appointments on-line, but not order repeat prescriptions. At our surgery, I can order repeat prescriptions, but not make appointments! Perhaps they should have a chat with each other.
So "Long live our surgery's receptionists".
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