Don't hate GP receptionists for being grumpy – they're under pressure and under qualified, says new reportStudy says they may be annoying but they are just trying to protect the most vulnerable
In many cases, patients are to blame for confrontation

Rachel Reilly


18:21 GMT, 22 February 2013



18:21 GMT, 22 February 2013

Misunderstood: Receptionists are just trying to help

Misunderstood: GP receptionists are usually only trying to help

They are portrayed as power-crazed dragons who fiercely guard their lair, but GP receptionists should be given a break, says researchers

A new study has found that the receptionist's bad reputation is unjustified because they are under incredible pressure to make important decisions regarding a patient's health.

What's more,they are only given minimal training to do so.

The study, carried out by researchers at the University of Manchester, observed 45 GP receptionists for 200 hours.

It found that in cases where their behaviour could be construed as hostile, they were in fact trying to protect the most vulnerable patients.

Indeed, in many cases where there was tension between the receptionist and patient, it was in fact the patient who was to blame.

As part of a receptionist's role, they are responsible for determining whether a patient's health problem is an emergency or not.

The study, called Slaying the Dragon Myth, explained that doctors often set rules about how to judge the urgency of an appointment.

Questions relating to a patient's symptoms will often be asked and an appointment will be allocated depending on the receptionist's judgement.

This can set patients and receptionists up for confrontation when a visitor is told that their ailment does not warrant immediate attention.

Another reason for a receptionist's detached and often curt manner is, according to a study carried out by Durham University last year, due to a defence mechanism they develop to avoid 'emotional burnout'.

GP waiting rooms can often be a battleground between receptionists and patients

GP waiting rooms can often be a battleground between receptionists and patients

'The phone is constantly ringing and the
receptionist needs to answer the phone to a patient, who is likely to
be unwell and quite probably annoyed about having to wait so long,' said
Dr Jenna Ward who was involved in the study. 'In the space of seconds, the receptionist is presented with sorrow, happiness and anger.'

The research went on to explain how it would be unhelpful for the receptionist to empathise or mirror all of these emotions — he or she must remain in control of their own feelings and those of their patients.

Figures compiled last year found that complaints to family surgeries have risen by nearly 10 per cent since 2007, when the NHS data was first collected.

The biggest increase involved complaints relating to the surly attitude of receptionists, phone-lines
being engaged or lack of appointments.

More than 53,590 written complaints were lodged by patients against local surgeries which equates to well over 1,000 a week.