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Focusing on the front line

by in News

Blonde receptionistIn an attempt to improve patient contact with GP practices, NHS Bradford City CCG and NHS Bradford Districts CCG are funding training courses to train receptionists in customer care. The idea is to help staff “make each patient feel valued and at ease” and is part of a drive to improve patients’ experience of primary care.

The CCGs say there has been an “enthusiastic response from practice staff who are keen to increase the skills they need to deal with patients and improve overall quality at their practices”.

First point of contact

Dr Andy Withers, clinical chair of Bradford Districts CCG, said: “GP receptionists are often the first point of contact for a patient so it’s vital they make a positive impression. We’ve had a really good response from local practices to the offer of training and I’m confident that this will further improve staff’s customer service and communication skills.”

Sharon Barraclough, business development manager at The Grange Practice in Bradford, said: “The benefit of good customer service cannot be underestimated and for many receptionists, the favourite part of their job is the interaction they have with patients – however, it’s not always the easiest part.

“Training is vital to what we do ‘on the front line’ and this course recognises the important role every member of the practice team plays in making sure that all patients receive the best quality of care possible.”

Unfairly labelled

At a recent practice manager-focused event attended by Practice Index, news of the training funding was met with a mixed response. While plenty were in favour of the move, others think the money should be spent elsewhere, deeper towards the core of primary care.

One delegate joked that it sounds like learning how to say no with a smile, suggesting that until overcapacity and burgeoning patient lists are addressed, training is futile. “Until receptionists can start saying yes to patients and provide proven alternative forms of access to primary care services, however good the receptionist is, it will never be enough for the all-too-numerous rude patients,” he commented. “It’s just top-dressing again.”

Indeed, a study by Manchester and Liverpool Universities in 2013 concluded that GP receptionists’ reputation as grumpy and unhelpful is unfair, because they have such a difficult job in prioritising patients with minimal time, information and training.

Addressing the issues

The good news is that the CCGs involved in this funding initiative are looking further than under pressure front line reception staff. Feedback revealed by the Bradford CCGs shows that patients are frustrated about the effort required to get through on the telephone, GP appointment systems and the perceived attitude of some reception staff. The CCGs have been working with patients and practices to identify and find solutions to all of these areas.

Dr Akram Khan, clinical chair of Bradford City CCG, said: “Many of our practices are very good at offering same-day contact with a GP or nurse and are being innovative in trying to improve access. It’s great that they will be sharing their ideas with other practices and I hope that information sharing and our recommendations from the review will help them.”

What do you think about this initiative? Could your receptionists benefit from customer service training? Is it just ‘top-dressing’? Should there be more events that get practice managers sharing ideas with each other? Post your comments below or let us know in the Practice Index forum.

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2 Responses to “Focusing on the front line”
  1. Avatar
    Barry Syder Says:

    As I (as well as many other colleagues) have been organising and delivering training for GP receptionists for over 20 years, I was a little puzzled as to why the Bradford project was considered worthy of national news coverage. FHSAs funded receptionist training, as did Health Authorities, PCGs, PCTs and now CCGs in many (if not all) areas. Any funding for training is always welcome, but to present this as ground-breaking does seem a bit odd.


  2. Avatar
    Anna Boswell Says:

    Equipping staff with real customer care skills empowers them to make the changes they CAN make rather than focusing on what they can’t. There is a very significant difference between someone simply saying ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ compared with someone who understands and knows how to connect with you. These skills don’t just have a positive impact on patients; they impact an entire work force. If you know how to embed this culture within a team, by connecting with each unique individual, you can’t not make a huge difference, to everyone.


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