Death threats prompt NHS bosses to speak up for doctors’ receptionists

Posted On 03 Oct 2021 at 11:35 am

Doctors’ receptionists have received death threats and online abuse and surgeries have been vandalised, prompting NHS bosses to speak out.

They said that reports of threats and abuse locally had risen and that it was unacceptable, adding: “Abuse of any kind will not be tolerated.”

Andy Hodson, a GP (general practitioner) who chairs the Brighton and Hove Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), said: “We would like to thank the vast majority of patients for their kindness, patience and understanding for our GP practice teams.

“Local GPs and their practice teams are working incredibly hard to provide care and support for their patients.”

Dr Hodson said that they were providing appointments “on a day-to-day basis that work best for the needs of the patient” to keep everyone safe as well as addressing the health checks and reviews that were due as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

He said that they were also now leading the covid-19 vaccination programme and overseeing the seasonal flu jabs.

Dr Hodson added: “The abuse that some GP practices are experiencing as they work tirelessly to care for their patients is not acceptable.

“No one should be made to feel intimidated or abused simply for doing their job. We are challenging these behaviours and they will not be tolerated.”

The CCG said: “Demand for NHS services is high but … in August alone, more than 717,725 appointments took place in GP practices in Sussex – 58.5 per cent of which were face to face and that rate is increasing (57 per cent in July).

“As well as face-to-face appointments, GP practices are also offering phone and video appointments – options to keep patients safe and provide more flexibility for those who don’t need to be seen on site.

“All patients who contact their surgery, either online or by phone, are assessed to decide whether they need to be seen in person, via a phone or video consultation or if they would benefit from a visit to a community pharmacy.

“By working in this way, GP practices can make sure those with the greatest need are seen first and also that patients see the person who is best placed to help them.”

One online meme about the fuel shortages at the petrol pumps takes aim at the system employed for making appointments at some GP (general practice) surgeries.

Another GP, Laura Hill, who chairs the neighbouring West Sussex CCG, said: “Our GP practices have always been open and face-to-face consultations have always been available for those who need to be seen.

“The majority of appointments in our GP practices are face to face – and this number is still continuing to rise.”

Dr Hill said: “It is important, however, that we keep a range of ways you can have an appointment as we move forward so that we can meet the increasing demand and make sure we can support our patients in the best possible way.

“Many patients have also found that telephone and video appointments, where appropriate, suit their lifestyle and working patterns, and they have benefited from shorter waiting times for appointments and protection from sharing waiting room environments.

“They can also benefit from the expertise of the range of professionals within surgery teams such as nurses, pharmacists, physiotherapists and social prescribers.”

Andy Hodson

David Warden, the family doctor who also chairs the East Sussex CCG, said: “With more than 30,000 appointments happening in GP practices in Sussex every day, it is important to understand the experience of patients.

“The latest GP Patient Survey shows that more than 85 per cent of patients in Sussex said that they have a good overall experience from their GP practice.”

Dr Warden added: “Further to this 70 per cent of patients say it is easy to get through on the phone, and 85 per cent of patients say they were satisfied with the type of appointment they were offered.

“GP practices are working incredibly hard to support their patients in this way and keep the level of care high. We ask that you to continue to show them kindness, and help them help you at this time.”

The CCGs said that their advice for patients included

  • If your illness is minor, try to manage your symptoms yourself for a day or two. Visit nhs.uk for helpful information and your local pharmacy is a great first port of call.
  • If your illness is not going away, or you are worried about your symptoms, contact your GP surgery.
  • If you’re ill or injured and are unsure where to turn, visit www.111.nhs.uk or call 111. The 111 phone service can book you into local NHS services if needed.

There have been criticisms that GP surgeries, also known as family doctors, are not resuming their normal service quickly enough as the number and seriousness of covid cases has declined.

Caitlin Buckley, 25, from the Hanover area of Brighton, urged others to push for face-to-face appointments after her experience of misdiagnosis when she had a video appointment.

Caitlin Buckley

She said: “I was told by doctors over Zoom (online) appointments that I had recurrent tonsillitis but it turned out that I had a deadly and aggressive form of cancer called acute myeloid leukaemia.”

She ended up having life-saving treatment at the Royal Sussex County Hospital and has shared her story on YouTube.

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