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‘GP's receptionists, ward clerks and administrators set the tone for the care experience’

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There are few things in life more annoying than a bad GP receptionist, ward clerks or administrators. Recently I found myself talking to one and asking if a home visit for an elderly patient who had fallen and appeared breathless and confused might be possible and was told: ‘We’re very busy you know, the doctor would like to go home and some of us have baking to do.’

And you wonder what their job advert said. ‘Wanted: unhelpful ball of grumpiness with the telephone manner of Shrek to make people’s lives just that little bit more difficult?’

Of course we know that sometimes being a receptionist is a thankless task. We know that people can be rude, unreasonable and demanding and that collecting that sort of aggravation is bound to have an effect. But we also know that many people who work in support roles are good at their jobs. And by being good at their jobs they make nurses’ and doctors’ jobs that little bit easier if only because clinicians do not have to spend time placating frustrated patients.

Over the Christmas period the chief executive at the King’s Fund (and former Nursing Times editor) Niall Dickson, said
in an interview with the BBC that there had been a deterioration in levels of compassion in the NHS and that addressing that issue should be a top priority for hospital boards. Compassion is listed as a core value in the draft NHS Constitution and interestingly the government is recognising its importance by trying to develop methods to measure it. One imagines a compassion calculator and some kindness scales are being tested in a secret laboratory as we speak.

I don’t think nursing is going to have much difficulty responding to this. I spent a lot of time over Christmas in hospital as a visitor and most nurses retained the manner and skill that showed compassion in spite of the pressures on beds and time.

However, compassion, indeed civility, is not simply the preserve of nurses. Patients come into contact with a wide range of people: receptionists, ward clerks and administrators and they can set the tone for the episode of care and all the interventions that follow.

Compassion starts with politeness. It is a readiness to listen and to respond without rudeness. Put down the crossword for a few minutes, perhaps stop wanting to tell the world what a difficult day you are having and manage to not share your irritability with the ill person you are talking to.

The identity of the NHS has been lost in its conversion to a marketplace and one of the ways to address that is to focus on human qualities like compassion. But in doing that we need to broaden our gaze from nursing to include the non-clinical staff who so often set the tone for what follows and sometimes do it so very poorly.

Want to read more of Mark Radcliffe’s opinions? Just click on the more by this author link at the top of the page.

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