The Only National Awards For Non-Medical / Non-Clinical NHS Staff & Volunteers

A day in the life of a GP Receptionist

8th June 2022

GP Receptionists are the first point of call for NHS patients. They are often the first faces people see when they come into the surgery and the first voices they hear, yet these non-medical members of staff are often the unsung heroes of the NHS.

We spoke to NHS GP Receptionist Ciara (name changed for anonymity), to get a sneak peek behind the scenes of a day in the life of an NHS GP Receptionist. In this blog post, we learn more about what a GP Receptionist’s job involves and what a typical day can look like…

How do you start your day?
I get up at about 6:45am. Although I’m not really a breakfast person, I do try to eat some cereal before work. If not, I’ll grab something like toast or a pastry to take with me. Luckily, I live relatively nearby, so I’ll normally walk to work and listen to music to get myself ready for the day. This week, I’ve been listening to a lot of 70’s rock, like Queen.

What is the first thing you do when you arrive at work?
I don’t start until 7:457am, but I like to get there 15 minutes early to organise myself. The first thing I do is say hello to the security guard and to my three colleagues, before turning my computer on. From there, I use my NHS smart card to log in and set up, so I’m ready to go. The smart card gives me access to patients’ medical records. I also have to log onto the phone system, my emails, the filing system, clinic access, and the patient record and appointments system. There are quite a lot of things to log into!

How do you organise your day?
I’ll grab a pen, a notepad, and some sticky notes. Sticky notes are my best friend at work because I write reminders on them throughout the day and stick them to my computer screen. I check my Outlook diary, which I also use to set reminders, like calling back patients and things like that. I check my emails and look through the patient triage forms that have been left from the night before, as well as any tasks that GPs have sent through, such as booking patients in for follow up appointments and blood test results.

Talk me through your morning tasks?
There’s a rota that tells us what we will be doing on any particular day, but usually, I will be doing triaging forms in the morning and on phones in the afternoon. So, on a typical day, from 8am until 1pm, I am doing the triaging forms with one other colleague. For triaging, each receptionist has a detailed spreadsheet with a list of different symptoms on it and the relevant action. For instance, if somebody has earache and they’re a child, that would warrant a same-day appointment.

How do you spend your lunch break? 
Our lunches are staggered on a rota, and mine is at 1pm. I get half an hour, and at that point, I usually haven’t stopped all morning, so I like to have some quiet time to relax. I tend to check my phone while I have my lunch and get back to my friends who have messaged me. Sometimes I will go for a walk outside.

What do your afternoons usually look like?
Most days, I’m on the phones from 1:30-5:15pm. The phones are ringing constantly, with literally a ten-second break until the next call comes in. If no phones are ringing, which is rare, I will complete tasks for GPs. On some afternoons, I’m on the desk downstairs, collecting forms, receiving samples, and things like that. I’m meant to finish at 5:15, but I often stay on later to get everything done.

How do you unwind after work?
When I get home, I say hello to my housemate and change into something comfy, and then we usually eat together, taking it in turns to cook. After that, I’ll have a shower, set out my uniform for the next day, and make lunch. Then, I’ll usually just chill, watching TV, scrolling on my phone or listening to music. I tend to get in bed by 10pm and listen to an audio book.

What’s the best part about your job?
Definitely my colleagues! I’ve made some really good friends with the girls at work. There’s a sense of camaraderie because the job can be tough at times. I also enjoy helping the patients. Some of them can be quite funny and sweet – the older ones especially. Today, one woman called about her husband. I realised she had a different address from him, so I rang her back to clarify if there was a mistake. She said that they’d been separated for ten years but helped each other out; then she said they get on much better that way! That made me chuckle. It’s also nice how patients can be really appreciative. Some will even bring in biscuits and chocolates for us!

What’s the most challenging part about your job?
The majority of patients are lovely and know that we are doing our best, but unfortunately, the not-so-nice ones are more vocal and call up the most. They can say really nasty things down the phone if they can’t get an appointment, like “if I die, it’s your fault!” That can be really stressful and disheartening. It’s also difficult to not be able to give everyone an appointment straight away, but we just don’t have the capacity. I understand patients’ frustrations but can be powerless to help.

Tell me about one thing you’ve done at work that you are proud of?
Recently, a lady came into surgery and asked if she could speak with me privately. You’re not really meant to come in asking for appointments, but she was visibly shaken up because she’d been suffering with bad stomach pain and was very worried. I sat down with her and took some information. I was then able to book her in and get her seen to by a GP. She had to wait about 20 minutes but was very grateful for getting an appointment. She actually ended up going into hospital and having surgery, so I was really happy that I acted so quickly to help her.

What would you say about the NHS?
It’s brilliant. However, I experience first-hand how understaffed it is. Working for the NHS has definitely changed my perspective on what receptionists do and how hard they work. Everyone works non-stop.

If you could tell people one thing about GP receptionists, what would you want them to know?
We’re not the bad guys. We are genuinely just doing our jobs. There can be this stereotype that we’re the ‘bouncers of the NHS’, but we’re not. We’re doing the best we can, and some days can be difficult, but I choose to go back and do it every day. We want patients to be seen and to get the treatment – we are there to help you! 

This blog hopefully highlights why it is so important to shine a light on our non-medical NHS staff. The Unsung Hero Awards were established in 2015 to promote and celebrate these people, as well as volunteers.

Did you find this blog interesting? Read our previous blog, celebrating the hidden heroes in the NHS family.


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