Two in five patients reported that having to tell GP receptionists their symptoms before booking an appointment could put them off visiting their GP, according to research published in the Journal of Public Health today.
A survey of almost 2,000 people in Great Britain on perceived barriers to seeing a GP, revealed that 40% dislike having to talk to GP receptionists about their symptoms.
With women most likely to report these barriers, the survey also found that 42% would not see their GP because of difficulty getting an appointment with a particular doctor, or at a convenient time.
Those from a lower socio-economic background were more likely to report a number of possible emotional barriers like worrying about what the GP might find, having tests and talking about symptoms.
They were also more likely to say they would be put off going to their GP if they couldn’t see a particular doctor.
Across all groups, not wanting to be seen as someone who makes a fuss was a commonly perceived barrier to seeking help - with 35% reporting this.
The research comes as UK cancer survival lags behind other developed countries.
Dr Richard Roope, Cancer Research UK’s 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.
“We need to ensure that patients are able to get appointments at a convenient time, can book an appointment to see a particular doctor and aren’t put off coming to see them in the first place.
“This may mean more emphasis on training front desk staff including receptionists to deal more sensitively with patients.”
Dr Maureen Baker, chair of the Royal College of General Practice, has said it is important remember that receptionists “are not healthcare professionals, and are not in a position to make decisions about our patients' health.”
She said: “While GP receptionists are valued members of the practice team and play a pivotal role in delivering patient care, we understand that our patients would prefer to speak to their family doctor about their health, especially if it is sensitive in nature.”
She added that the GP Forward View pledges £45m to roll-out nationwide training for receptionists and clerical staff, which “could have a significant impact on the progressing role of GP receptionists and the overall patient experience, and the College will be following developments closely."