I have just tried to book an appointment to have a Hep B vaccine ready for visiting the slums of Brazil. First of all, my surgery said they did not do this any longer, I had to go to the next town and gave me the number of the surgery. That surgery informed me that they were full, they only have one nurse, I will have to have it done privately in London.
I wont name the receptionist, but I would like to because she represents to me all the rude/bolshy/unhelpful doctor’s receptionists who I have had the misfortune to have to phone in the last twenty years. She did not apologise, she did not give a reason, she did not ask whether that was a viable alternative. There was no discussion whatsoever. She just spoke to me as though I was an annoying inconvenience who should have known better than to call and ask such a silly question.
I then phoned the vets. I needed to find out if it was safe to worm Milly and Molly while they were feeding kittens. She didn’t know (apologised) and went to find out. She came back with the information, I drove to the surgery, collected what I needed and it was not an unpleasant experience.
She did not treat me like an idiot. She explained more than I had asked so that I could make the correct decision and anything she didn’t know, she went and found out for me.
Now, both people work with the public (which can, I know, be stressful. I was a teacher remember, you often see the public at their worst then, because everyone’s been to school, so everyone knows how to best teach, right?) However, I hope I was never as rude to even the most obnoxious of parents as doctor receptionists have been to me.
It is actually dangerous. If you have been up for a couple of nights with an ill child and you know that when you phone the surgery, after being put on hold for five minutes, they will interrogate you as to whether the visit is really necessary, let you know that the doctor’s schedule is full and you really should have known last week that your child was going to be ill and made the appointment then. Well, you just cannot face it. You decide you will wait. Then when you finally do go, the doctor says you should have come earlier, the complaint is now much more serious.
How can you tell them that actually you are terrified of the Hitler on the reception desk, that last time your child was ill she actually made you cry and this time you would have missed the 8:30am appointment phoning time because after not sleeping all night again you fell asleep from 7 til 9am. Which makes the lack of appointments totally your own fault.
Even if you are not phoning with an ill child, why is it necessary for them to be rude? I had brain surgery last year, it was still not possible to see my own GP, the receptionist still treated me like I should not really be there (even with a three inch scar across a hole in my skull!)
I know that doctors are over stretched and the receptionists have to protect them. I know that some people have appointments when a trip to Boots for some throat lozenges would suffice. I know that sometimes ill people might be stressy and unreasonable when they call. But is it necessary to be rude? Really?
So what is the solution? The only difference, as far as I can see between the vet and the doctor is that I pay for the vet, I am a customer, if they are rude I will go elsewhere and take my money with me. Now, I do NOT want to see the health service privatised. I love that we can go to the doctors and not worry they might be recommending treatment in order to get the money (I lived in the US remember). I like that everyone, on any income, can go to the doctor.
However, there is no excuse for rudeness. Maybe the receptionists need to remember what their job is.
So, could we just privatise the receptionists? Could the National Health Service run as it is (maybe with a little more investment please Mr Prime Minister) but save the money in the budget that is paid to the receptionists. You could use it to pay for one extra doctor in every county (every little helps.) The receptionists would be paid by the patients.
Now personally, I favour a voluntary donation system, so they would have to be very nice or they would not get paid (like some waiters) but I can see that this might not work. So how about a small fee every time you visit the surgery? Maybe £2 a visit?
I am not poor now but I grew up poor (very very poor) and I still work with kids from an estate where many are on benefits. All of them can afford the occasional costa coffee, they use the bus instead of walking, they buy sweets (none of which I could have afforded as a teenager.) I think that £2 a visit is not too much for anyone to pay. It would also make some of the ‘time wasters’ think twice, to perhaps pop to Boots or wait a few days to see if the sore throat cleared up on its own, which it often does.
Most importantly, perhaps it would make those receptionists be nicer. It is possible. I had a very nice one once. When I phoned for an appointment, there were none available but she was polite and kind. She sympathised, asked if I was feeling very poorly, said she was sorry but all the appointments had gone. Then she asked if I thought I should definitely see someone that day, in which case she would fit me in as an emergency with another doctor, or could I manage to wait until tomorrow? Mostly she was just kind. If I knew her name I would include it. It is possible to do a difficult job well. Maybe they just need a little motivation. Maybe the surgery needs to fire the bad ones……
PS. As promised, more kitten pictures. They are growing so fast!
Letters to a sister are posted every Monday.