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my GP surgery has just introduced a new system for appoinments which involves having to tell the receptionist what your symptoms are so that the receptionist can determine whether you see a nurse or a doctor for your appointment!!! I consider this to be an invasion of my privacy and shall refuse to discuss my symptoms with a receptionist. Can anyone shed light on my patients rights regarding this matter?

best of the bunch

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13 Replies

Hi bestofthebunch,

No-one can insist on your giving any medical or personal information about yourself to a receptionist. It does help the surgery, especially if they have introduced, as I suspect yours is now doing, a triage system, so that in giving the basics to the receptionist, he or she will know who best to have call you back to assess how urgent your need may be.

But you are quite at liberty to say 'I do not wish to give you any personal information, but I do consider I need to be seen urgently, so please have a doctor or nurse call me back so that I can discuss this with him/her.'

And then that doctor or nurse will decide how urgent your need is to be seen on the same day, or can offer you a non-urgent appointment, or give other advice or treatment over the phone.

We may not like the recent changes in the way in which, and speed with which, we can be attended to, but I'm afraid that, given the present state of primary care under the auspices of the NHS, we are all having to compromise to the extent we feel we can, and to try to go with the changes being thrust upon us by an overburdened service.

It's also true that no surgery is obliged to keep a patient they consider to be being obstructive. It's usually a last resort but the possibility exists of their asking for you to be removed from the patient list. I do not believe any would do that, simply based on your wanting to retain the highest level of confidentiality, but I'm just pointing out that the mechanism exists for that to happen.

Best wishes.

Bestofthebunch you have my sympathy. This week I too experienced the same with my surgery. I had to tell a receptionist, who was very brusque, my symptoms and I was at work. I had to go into the stair well for privacy. As Callendarsgal advised I will refuse in future. I am not sure of my rights either.

I tried to explain to the receptionist this but I got told twice that "she (the receptionist) was not allowed to give any appointments out to patients to see a GP" I find this statement astonishing and would like to know my rights regarding that too. I have paid for many, many years into the NHS and would expect an appointment with my GP should I think I need one.

I was then told a doctor will phone me. Again I tried to explain my situation. I cannot accept personal calls at work and do not want to talk about my health in front of my colleagues at work. The receptionist said that all I had to do was say what I had just said to her to the doctor when he or she phones. 1. You never know when they are going to phone you and I had a couple of meetings scheduled that day (sorry it is just inconvenient for me at work) and 2. I cannot accept personal calls at work (no one was listening to me on this. They think everyone is at home!) I asked how I could get an appointment with a GP. I was willing to call the next day or in the evening, book in advance or do anything to suit them to get an appointment with my GP. Again I got told that the receptionist was not allowed to book me an appointment. I gave up in the end. I had to get back to my desk!

The NHS is overburdened Callendersgal but we can't keep using this as an excuse to accept poor practice, intimidating surgery staff and the feeling that we, the patients, are burdens!

I have decided to try another practice as my friends and family seem to get on better at their practices (I have been with my existing practice, on and off, for 61 years so not doing this lightly). However, I am shocked at the statement by Callendersgal that a surgery can strike you off their books should they find you obstructive. This is surely not acceptable.

I intend to find out more about my rights on all this and be absolutely clear on what my rights are. We cannot feel like we are intruding when we just want to see a GP. This will be detrimental to our health and wellbeing.

Sorry gone on a bit here but I feel very strongly about this.

Actually GPstarved, I do like the triage system. Under the old method, the first come were first served, often with quite trivial complaints, and some of us with more urgent needs found ourselves out in the cold for urgent treatment.

That said, I do empathise with those people who, like yourself, find it difficult and/or inconvenient to make personal calls at work, though if it's urgent enough to need to be seen on that day, I'd certainly be making my employers aware I wasn't well and would need, as an emergency, to make that call. And triaging only applies to same day urgent appointments. (And any decent employer would see that, if a doctor or nurse phones an employee (in a private place) at work, and can resolve the problem, it's better for productivity than losing an employee for the day to an emergency medical appointment).

And on those grounds I think it is probably worth bringing up with boss/manager/human resources personnel so that provision for this can be made. After all, with the spread of triaging, they will likely have come up against or will come up against, the same thing.

Alternatively you have a practice manager at your GP surgery and that's what they are there for. If you are unhappy with any aspect of the system in place why not schedule a phone call or appointment to discuss! I'm quite sure that, run as a business as most practices are now, and with satisfaction targets to meet, any manager is going to ensure your particular problem is taken into account.

Edit: Sorry, missed the point about being removed from a GP list. Yes, you certainly can be removed. When I worked for GP surgery we had a handful of patients who were so obstructive that we removed them after the statutory six months and they were allocated a nearby surgery, which in its turn would turf them off their list as soon as was possible. It's rare, but a doctor's practice only sells its services to the NHS (another fact that's not that well understood) and cannot be coerced to keep a patient forever.

And overarchingly, this is a much bigger issue.

The answer is political. And there are enough of us to change things if we stop wasting energy on useless protests and get ourselves to the ballot box.

We all know the NHS is going under through austerity and we know who introduced it and are sticking with it.

We can make it stop!

Hidden in reply to GPstarved

Yes they can take you off the list for no particular reason.

Are you able to book appointments online? If you can, it is worth having a chat with the receptionist to find out when they release appointments. In the practice I attend, most of the time you can only book an appointment several weeks ahead but, on Monday mornings, you can usually get an appointment very quickly.

My recommendation would be to get on the right side of the receptionist(s) - don't fight them 'cos they'll win!

There is no provision for booking appointments online any longer as this new triage system is now in operation.

Hmm - That's a shame. But it's still worth trying to get on the right side of the receptionist if you can! :)


If you don't want to tell the receptionist what the appointments for just make something up if it's something private.

Good advice already given, so can’t add more.

However, with GDPR the topic of choice recently, I question the right of a practice to show a patient’s full name and surname on their display board without asking permission. If I choose not to have info about me on display for everyone in the waiting room, surely that’s for me to decide, however paranoid I might appear to be.

Initially I was told that if they change it for one patient then they have to do it for everyone, so it can’t be done. I don’t accept this. Apparently the only alternative is to ask staff to use one’s initial rather than a full first name, but the surname will always be on display.

I would like to know what the NHS policy is towards this as I don’t believe the current system complies with GDPR.

This triage system has just been introduced into our practice the GP receptionists have attended further training in order to be able to differentiate which particular person you will need to see when you tell them your symptoms whether it be nurse practitioner GP or any of the other health professionals I had to access this system a few weeks ago for my mum I rang the surgery and told the receptionist my mums symptom within 10 minutes the on call dr was at my mums house examined her and admitted her straight away to the local A and E dept so for me it worked I know we don’t like changes but this seems the way the NHS is now going it takes the burden of the overstretched GPS when they have highly skilled trained nurses and practitioners to help them and another thing to take into consideration is how can a receptionist help you If you won’t tell them what is wrong with you????????? I can appreciate your understanding you think they are breaking confidentiality and taking your rights away from you but you have to make that choice at the end of the day I honestly believe they are there to help

This has been the practice at our gps for years. It was only recently I was told the information they really needed was if it was a new or existing complaint.

In the past this has led to many an argument with a receptionist as some time my visits have involved a personal matter. I once asked receptionist when they qualified as a doctor.

Yes I ended up ringing back and apologising ,but it gets frustrating. I know they may need information to assess your needs....But a crowded surgery is not the place .



Sorry to (VERY) late reply to all this.

Yes GDPR/Data protection does give you rights.

It is dubious whether a surgery should be displaying your name on a publically visible board unless this is just a way of summoning you to the consultation room when your doctor is ready for you. Certainly, there should be no other detail at all.

Yes a lot of GP surgeries have now adopted a triage system, receptionists have been put in the position of having to diffrentiate between patients who need to be seen urgently, those that need to be seen less urgently, those that could be dealt with by a competent nurse practitioner and those that don't need to be seen at all. If your problem is not that urgent or doesn't really need a doctors input, there are other servcices available which may be just as effective.

Receptionists may find themsleves in thsi position without feeling they are properly trained to do it or are un comfortbale with it and this may be refelcted in the way they deal with it. Some are just "up themselves", but give them a chance first.

In some cases talking to a pharmacist would be sufficient or calling 111, who can advise you.

I believe NHS England now oblige surgeries to have an online system.

Yes surgeries can strike you off if you are obstructive or abusive.

If you have any causes for concern with your surgery, they will have a complaints procedure and you can less formally contact the practice manager. If you are not satisfied withy the rersponse you get, you can escalate your complaint to NHS England (Scotland etc)

Yes the NHS is overstretched, too few GPs and too many patients. It doesn't help either to take an adversarial attitude towards staff or services. We need to know what they can do to help us, but we also need to know what we should do to help them, help us.

Surgeries have, again I think obliged to have, a "Patient Participation Programme" or something with a similar title in which you can be involved. This enables dialogue between staff and patients which can help US both.

For services other than GP surgeries, e.g. hospital trusts, the trusts themselves or your local CCG (Clinical Commissioning Group) will have their own arrangements for engaging with and involving the puiblic.

This involves some, but not a lot of time and effort on your part and from my own experience may be worth it. The trouble is not enough people are aware of this or are willing to make the little effort.

"they will have a complaints procedure...". Please do not go there. There is no functioning NHS complaints procedure due to corruption to defend at all costs. I'm talking about the PHSO Health Ombudsman who is under NHS thumb, and not independent, transparent or 'free', if you have a care for your health. I did ten years ago and my complaint's still open.

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