Telephone Call From a 4 year old

When I was a receptionist I answered the forever ringing telephone early one Monday morning.

I gave the surgery name and followed this with my own name. I was not expecting the reply I received. A young voice came over the telephone asking me “who is that”.

I gave her my name again and straight away asked for her name. She gave me her first name – Holly.  I was very friendly towards her and told her my full name and asked her full name thankfully she gave me this – I was speaking to Holly Smith.

I took a note of the name and tried to keep her attention. I asked the girl where her mummy was and she replied that her mummy was “asleep” upstairs. I asked her if there was anyone else in the house besides her mummy and herself  – she confirmed that her uncle Dave has just left and it was just her and her mummy in the house. Holly seemed to be happy and not upset.

I asked what her mummy was called – she replied “mummy”.  I asked her if her mummy had another name – she replied “yes” “Mummy Smith”.

I asked the girl how old she was and she told me she was 4 years of age. I asked her if she went to school and she told me that she always went after lunch.

I asked Holly where she lived – and she said that she lived “down the road, the house with the blue gate”.

I realised at this point I was not going to get any more information out of Holly – I asked her to go and check her mummy again and to keep hold of the telephone as I wanted to talk to her some more.

She came back on the phone and confirmed that her mummy would not wake up. She then quickly said to be “I have to go now” and put the phone down.

While having the telephone conversation I put Holly’s name into the computer, she was a patient at our surgery and the records showed that she was in fact 4 years of age. It also confirmed that her mum was also a patient at the surgery. We had an address – but there was no telephone number listed.

I went into the duty doctor and informed him of the conversation, he said that he would go around to the house immediately – I also informed the Health Visitor. She said that she would go with the doctor. The Health Vistor knew the family and felt she could be support if needed.

While the Doctor and the Health Visitor were on their way I phoned directory enquiries to see if they had a number listed for that address – they did.

I phoned the number and Holly picked up the phone – I told her who I was and she remembered me. I asked if her mummy was still asleep and she replied “no mummy is taking a bath now”.  I asked her to tell her mummy that I was on the phone – but she replied with “I have to go now”– and put the phone down.

The Doctor and Health Visitor arrived shortly after and found one very embarrassed mum in her dressing gown. They explained what had happened and pleased that all was ok. Mrs Smith said that she would make sure that it didn’t happen again.


1.        As a Receptionist would you have done anything differently?

2.       What do you think was important in this incident?

3.       What could be done to make a similar situation easier to deal with?


1.        As a Receptionist I felt that I did as much as I could have done in this situation. I  got the information that was needed and from that we were able to confirm that the patient (or her daughter) was not in any danger.

2.        The most important thing is to get a name, a contact telephone number and an address – and if you can a date of birth. Try putting this into the computer as you get the information at the same time to see if they match up.

Try to get as much information as you can.

Speed on such an incident is vital.

Once you have sufficient information ensure that you pass this onto the correct person to deal with (ie duty Doctor / Nurse / Ambulance Control)

If Holly had continued talking to me I would not have disconnected the call – I would have passed this on to another Receptionist to deal with whilst I continued to chat to Holly – it would be better her talking to me rather than being perhaps on her own with a poorly mum to deal with.

If there had been a health care professional in the reception area at the time I would have got them to have taken over the call – but in this instance that was not possible – so I had to deal with the call.

3.        The most important thing from this was to get a telephone number for the family. I had the girl’s name, but no address and if I had not been able to obtain a telephone number we would have been powerless on what to do next – and would have probably had to report it to the police.

The lesson from this was I made notices to put up in the surgery and left leaflets on the reception desk asking patient to update us with their telephone numbers. It was quite scary just how many patients we did not have telephone numbers for – and quite a few that in fact had changes their telephone numbers. 

Also when patient phoned in to make appointments or with any queries I got in the habit of checking if we had a telehpone number for them and updated their records if we did not.

This incident was before we had phones that had caller id– but of course not all numbers come up – some are withheld – so do not rely on this alone.

Have you ever had such an incident in your surgery?