Some receptionists at GP surgeries in South Tyneside have been branded “Rottweilers” who hinder patients’ efforts to see a doctor.
The criticism came from councillors in South Tyneside yesterday who claimed they’d all had bad experiences with receptionists when ringing to make appointments.
The councillors were speaking out as the people’s select committee considered a report from NHS England on the state of South Tyneside’s 26 GP practices and four branch surgeries.
The South Tyneside Clinical Commissioning Group said GP access in South Tyneside was higher than the national average and receptionists play a key role in general practices.
In a report to the committee, Denise Jones, from NHS England, said clerical and administrative staff are to receive training to help alleviate the pressure of paperwork on medical staff.
But Coun Jim Foreman, who represents the Cleadon Park ward in South Shields, said: “When you say clerical staff you should call it what it is. You mean the receptionist Rottweiler.”
He said he had an ongoing dispute with one receptionist and said the doctors probably do not know how patients are being spoken to.
He said: “If the doctors knew the way some receptionists were treating people, they would have something to say about it.”
Coun Lynne Proudlock, Labour councillor for Simonside and Rekendyke, joined the attack.
She said: “I know many doctors’ receptionists who have not been on a charm course.”
Geraldine Kilgour, Labour councillor for Fellgate and Hedworth, said she had serious concerns about clerical staff ‘sign-posting’ patients towards care.
She said they did not have the medical knowledge needed and the process was putting too much pressure on the administrative staff, adding: “It is a risk.”
Susan Traynor, Labour councillor for Cleadon Park, said better education is needed and patients should be told that they do not have to discuss their medical issues with receptionists.
The committee’s concerns came a week after Cancer Research UK issued a report saying that having to speak to receptionists about their medical issues was putting off people from seeking help.
According to a survey of 2,000 people carried out by the charity, four out of 10 said they disliked having to speak to clerical staff at GP surgeries.
NHS South Tyneside Clinical Commissioning Group’s (CCG) chief executive, David Hambleton, said: “We are sorry to hear of the concerns raised by individual elected members at the People Select Committee.
“Receptionists are trained to ensure that patients see the most appropriate member of staff in the first instance, wherever possible.
“GP access is higher than the national average in South Tyneside and receptionists play a key role as part of the general practice team to arrange appropriate appointments.
“We are happy to hear individual concerns and pass these on to the practices concerned.”