A survey of almost 2,000 UK patients, published in the Journal of Public Health, found that not wanting to talk through their symptoms with reception staff is one the most common reasons patients put off going to their GP.
A total of 40% said they dislike talking to receptionists about symptoms. Other common ‘perceived barriers’ to seeing a GP were finding it difficult to secure an appointment with a particular doctor (42%) or at a convenient time (42%).
GP leaders called for commitments laid out in the GP Forward View promising further investment into receptionist training to be ‘implemented rapidly’.
The findings suggest that women are more likely to report these barriers, with 43% reporting they do not like discussing symptoms with receptionists compared to 37% of men.
Almost half of women (48%) said they found it difficult to secure an appointment with a particular doctor, while 37% of men said the same.
Across all patients, a third (35%) said they were reluctant to visit their GP because they did not want to be seen as someone ‘making a fuss’.
Cancer Research UK said action must be taken to stop people postponing appointments and potentially delaying diagnosis of cancer or other serious conditions.
Dr Richard Roope, a Cancer Research UK GP expert, said: ‘Diagnosing cancer early is something we have to take seriously, so anything that might prevent people from getting their symptoms checked needs to be overcome.’
GPC deputy chairman Dr Richard Vautrey called for the ‘rapid’ implementation of promised funding for receptionist training to help allay patient concerns.
He added: ‘All receptionists receive training to help ensure that when a patient calls they are given the most effective advice about what appointment they may need, but it is always made clear that are under no obligation to disclose information they are not comfortable with.
‘Like all parts of general practice, GP receptionists are doing a difficult job in a climate of staff shortages, falling funding and rising demand.’
RCGP chairwoman Dr Maureen Baker also called for the funding to be delivered, which would have ‘a significant impact on the progressing role of GP receptionists’, she said.
‘With GPs making more patient consultations than ever before – 60m more a year compared to five years ago – GP receptionists ensure the smooth running of the practice and do their best to help patients see a particular GP at a suitable time for them.
‘However, it is important to remember that they are not healthcare professionals, and are not in a position to make decisions about our patients' health.’