Remarks are unfair to staff

Across South Tyneside, GPs and their staff work exceptionally hard to provide a high quality service for patients. As a result, the majority of practices have good inspection ratings, while NHS patient surveys consistently show that local people are happier than the national average with the service they receive.

The NHS as a whole faces immense pressures, with a major increase in the number of patients with long-term, complex conditions as a result of an ageing population and improving healthcare. As clinicians it falls to us to make difficult decisions about how to get the best possible value for limited resources, and to support the NHS staff on whose skill and commitment we all rely.

That is why it was so disappointing to hear the deeply unhelpful comments about doctors’ receptionists made by a number of South Tyneside councillors recently. Receptionists play a vital role in the smooth running of practices, and do not deserve the kind of ill-informed comments and stereotyping we heard.

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These are dedicated people doing an important and difficult job, and are trained in identifying problems and making appropriate referrals, as well as broader areas like customer care, confidentiality, data protection and safeguarding. That means they are well placed to listen to the general nature of a problem and ensure that patients see the right professional for their needs. GPs, practice nurses and pharmacists have different skills, and it’s a waste of everyone’s time if people are booked in to see the wrong person.

Everyone values the NHS, and we accept that there will always be different opinions about how our health services should be run. Constructive comments and criticism, are a healthy part of this debate and can help us improve services for the future. No service can ever be perfect, so if there are problems identified in a particular service, we would always want to hear about it.

But ill-informed, abusive and anecdotal comments – such as the recent name-calling which took place in an official council committee – are unhelpful and entirely unfair to hard-working staff.

Dr David Hambleton,

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Chief Officer, NHS South

Tyneside CCG