I used to work on a magazine which had a celebrity motoring columnist. He was popular with the readers, but less so with the staff. Every column came in late with the collateral chaos of a scratched car to return or a parking fine which he expected us to pay. Naturally he largely avoided discussing these matters with us, aided by his PA, a genuinely lovely woman who became a veritable Cerberus when protecting him. Galling though it was for us, she knew her trade well. As for him... you might be horrified if I told you what his job is now.
I was thinking about her this week after the media seized on a report claiming receptionists were deterring people from seeing their GP. You can see why it struck a chord: they are an easy lightning rod for frustrations – the parking wardens of the NHS. Their day will begin with a flurry of 8am calls as that day’s appointments go like Glastonbury tickets, and they’ll be judged not just for delivering appointments but also for how much empathy they can display in the process. In truth when dealing with up to 70 patients a day, ranging from justifiably upset to directly abusive, a little detachment is a shield against burn-out.
And it’s not just crowd control. The NHS gets a lot out of those behind the desk. From good record-keeping to even making difficult calls on repeat prescriptions. It’s a job that demands skill, patience, dedication... and a lot more respect from service users.
Mike Shallcross, acting editor, Independent Nurse