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Lynn Hawthorne wonders why getting a straight answer is so difficult.

Music Hall comedians of old had three main staples for their jokes: mother-in-laws, Blackpool landladies and doctors’ receptionists.

Nowadays, you have to be nice to you mother-in-law because she’s your unpaid childminder while you go back to work and guesthouses are part of the ‘hospitality’ industry, so landladies have to be nice to you.

So that just leaves us with doctors’ receptionists. In the era of the new, enlightened patient-centred NHS, you’d expect receptionists to be pleasant and helpful, but that news has bypassed some staff at my local surgery.

MY GP sent me for tests recently – nothing scary, just routine – and told me that if they threw up nothing of note, he’d send me for different tests. Fair enough. We’d discuss it at my next appointment.

Today, thinking that I’d left long enough for the tests to be processed and reported, I rang my surgery to ask if the results had arrived so that I could make an appointment.

“You’ll have to ring back after 11.45 to speak to the nurse,” said the receptionist.

“But I don’t want to speak to the nurse, I just want to know whether the results have arrived so that I can discuss them with the doctor,” I explained.

“But I’m not qualified to open that (computer) screen to tell you what they are,” she continued.

I reiterated that I didn’t want to know the results at that moment, I just wanted to know they’d arrived so I could book an appointment. She obviously thought I was being difficult and, after much sighing, arranged to speak to the nurse and let me know, which she did.

Now I wasn’t being awkward. I merely asked what I deemed to be a straight-forward question which required a yes or no answer. To my mind, there was no point in booking an appointment with the doctor if there was nothing to discuss. I already had a pretty good idea what the results were because of informal (and non-binding) indications at the hospital, so I wasn’t worried – I just wanted to get organised.

Why was that so difficult? Is it just my surgery, or is there some strange ruling that forbids receptionists to indicate whether or not results have arrived? At no point did I actually ask for the results, I just asked about their whereabouts. To me, that needs no medical knowledge or training, certainly no qualifications, so why was it so hard to get my question across?

Is it that technology now posts results directly onto records, so that when they are opened, the person reading the screen sees everything and, therefore, presumably contravenes data protections guidelines? If that’s the case, surely commonsense suggests that receptionists abide by the Data Protection Act and do not divulge information to which they are party? Couldn’t that be part of their employment contract? Is it already?

Making an appointment with your GP should be part of the solution to medical problems, not adding to them by elevating stress levels. So, I’m going for a lie-down that I didn’t need before I picked up the ‘phone…..



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