Cancer Care At Its Best



I have a friend that has recently be diagnosed with cancer and she is facing many weeks of chemo. Her hair is falling out, and she has got those dreaded mouth ulcers amongst other things. But through this she is staying positive and I must say she is pretty amazing.

What keeps her so positive?

It’s the support she has from her family and friends. But that’s not all, she has shared with me the support she has received from everyone involved in her treatment and the care she has received has just been incredible, she has found every single person caring for her in the NHS just amazing.

From the Receptionists at her doctor’s surgery, to the doctors and nurses, hospital transport and volunteers at the hospital she has found every single one of them helpful and informative.

It’s not just the treatment that plays a big part in someone getting better and staying positive, it’s a lot to do with they support that they received from every single healthcare professional that is involved in their care.

Being a Medical Receptionist is more than customer service, its patient care at its best.

You could make someone’s treatment just that little bit more bearable in the way that you deal with them when they visit your surgery.

Always treat someone they way you would want to be treated.


© 2011-2017 Reception Training all rights reserved

Changing Times

I was chatting to a friend the other day and we were reminiscing about the “old days” and what our memories were as a child and how things have changed especially in our line of work over the years.

Mine was visiting my doctor as a child and just how things have changes so much over the years.

As a child I remember going into this great big house, (as a child I would have described this as a mansion) which was the Doctors Surgery, and where she lived. I can still remember so many details of that house, the grounds the house stood on, the big sweeping driveway that you drove in one way and out the other, the ivy climbing the walls and the great big red door to the main house – I always wondered what was beyond that door (this was the main entrance to the big house)

The Surgery entrance was at the side of the house, a smaller less obvious door and was black in colour. We would walk through the door and straight into the small waiting room – the receptionist sat in the same room behind a desk with one cabinet that held the notes.

Just one Doctor and one Receptionist, not even a nurse.

No fax machines, no computers, no scanners just a desk, a telephone with one line and one filing cabinet.

I used to think the receptionist was a nurse as she wore a white  coat. Confidentiality was unheard of as the receptionist discussed ailments with the patients and many personal details given at the desk for all to hear. Everyone would hang on to her every word as she spoke to patients on the telephone – often speaking names, addresses and ailments – no confidentiality at all – yet it seems to be accepted.

No radio or telly playing the background, no toys for the children to play with just a room with chairs and the reception desk.

I remember later on in years I went into that same reception area and as I approached the desk the receptionist looked up, beamed and said congratulations on your pregnancy – the room was full of people, and people in there that I knew but the worse for me was I wasn’t actually pregnant, she had in fact got me mixed up with another patient. It never entered my head to complain, to me a mistake was made and she was truly sorry when she realised her mistake. I wonder how that would have been handled these days?

We would then get called through to see the Doctor – as a child I was always in awe of her – she was old (or old to me as a child) but the one thing that enticed me into her room was the great big jar of jelly babies that sat proudly on her desk – if I was good I would always get a jelly baby before we left her room. I remember once actually getting 2 – I cannot remember if this was by mistake or if I had been particularly good.

The room was grand, it had big French doors opening onto a big garden, which would be wide open in the summer and in the winter months she would have a big open fire blazing away, not a fire guard in sight and her much-loved sheep dog would be lying in front of it. No Health and Safety issues back in those days.

There were no disabled access for patients in wheelchairs or any aids for people with special needs.

Training for patient care was basic yet then sufficient. Training for general practice was in its infancy.

Years rolled on and practices expanded and the new receptionist fared only slightly better. Often “sitting with Mavis” was accepted, the only method of training new staff. “Mavis” would tell the new receptionist what to do, showed her how to do it, and after a couple of weeks left her to discover the rest for herself.

The title of Practice Manager was practically unknown; staff were expected to learn fast, no doubt acquiring good habits as well as bad. The knowledge and skills for the role as the receptionist were picked up by trial and error, and some very inappropriate attitudes were acquired along the way.

Over the years the importance of general practice within the health service increased in leaps and bounds.

Practices grew in numbers; multi disciplinary teams worked under the same roof, the Practice Managers became an extremely important part of the Practice. Larger Practices would have a whole management team run what now has gone from a one-doctor practice into a Practice that could have many doctors’ nurses and numerous other healthcare professionals working together with one aim – Patient Care.

Patient care, confidentiality and health and safety became a vital part of our working day.

However, sadly, until recently, the methods of training Receptionists within some organisations have failed to keep pace.

It is now generally accepted that quality of care and job satisfaction go hand in hand. Staff need to know not only what they are doing but also why they are doing it – “sitting with Mavis” is just not acceptable anymore.

Receptionists must understand their role and how their individual job contributes to the care of the patients and the smooth running of the whole practice.

Receptionists need not only to be trained but also to continue their education and personal development in order to keep up to date with an “ever changing role.”

Training Reception Staff

  • Initial assessment should be part of the selection process before employment.
  • What knowledge and skills does the applicant have as a result of past experience?
  • Is the applicant flexible to fit in with the team?
  • Are the applicants knowledge and skills appropriate, and, if not, can they be modified by training and experience?

Training Programmes

Planning Receptionist training must take account information about the following:

  • What the Practice believes that their Receptionists need in order to improve performances and satisfaction in their daily work.
  • What new skills and knowledge the Receptionist needs to gain in order to cope with change.
  • What the Receptionists themselves feels they need/would like to learn in order to expand their skills.

Has your Practice moved with the times? Do you support your Receptionists with training?


© 2011-2017 Reception Training all rights reserved

The Lost Faxes

When a patient is suspected of having cancer it is vital that the correct procedures are met to ensure that they are seen by the correct consultant / healthcare professional.

Every possible action will be taken to ensure that the referral letter will get to the consultant / healthcare professional at the hospital concerned as soon as it possibly can. Surgeries will have their own protocol of dealing with this situations.

Let me share a story on a referral letter that was never received at the hospital.


True Story

It was 6.00 on a Friday evening – the doctor had a patient in with him who he suspected had a mass – possible cancer. It was too late to phone through to the consultant’s secretary for an appointment and too late for a letter go out in the post that same evening – so the procedure was the doctor had to fax the letter through – something that was done on several occasions.

All of the receptionists knew the procedure.

The fax went – and the letter format went on the Monday in the normal post. Tuesday there was a call from the hospital asking why they letter had not been in fact faxed through on the Friday – the Doctor said it was – but the hospital said they had no record of receiving it.

I was asked to investigate what had actually happened.

I went and spoke to the receptionist that sent the fax. She was obviously concerned and upset that I had to speak to her about the incident – to her it looked like I was accusing her of not sending the fax – I soon put her fears at ease and explained that I had to find out what had actually happened.

This was one of those moments where I was pleased that we kept a printed receipt of every fax sent and this was attached to the fax and filed. We found the letter and the receipt was attached that confirmed that the fax as indeed sent – and no errors had occurred whilst it was sent.

I telephoned the hospital – they were adamant that they had never received it. We had the “proof” that the fax was indeed sent from our office. But the still said they had not received it.

I am pleased to say the patient was not put at any extra risk and was seen within the allocated timescale.

Some weeks later I received a similar call from the hospital – they were waiting on a fax coming through and they had not received it. I checked again with Reception that they had sent it and they had all the confirmation that the fax had been sent. This happened for a 3rd time and I started getting concerned. Something was not right.

The faxes had been sent by 3 different receptionists – all very competent receptionists I might add and ones that took pride in their work. All of the receptionists were long serving receptionists and had been at the surgery for some years. Each and every one of them was concerned about the incidents that had taken place.

I went along to see the supervisor at the outpatients department where the faxes were going. She I was as concerned as I was about what was happening. This is where I found it very useful to have a good working relationship with the hospital because I felt that I could go along and chat to the supervisor about the incident – at the end of the day we wanted to get this matter sorted out and make sure that it didn’t happen again. After all we both wanted the best possible outcome for the patient.

(see my blog on Communication between the Surgery and the Hospital. )

I asked her if we were the only surgery that this was happening with – she told me it was – they made me feel that for whatever reason the error was happening at our end – but I could not for the life of me work out WHY. Each fax had been sent and the receipt of that fax kept and attached to the fax sent – we got a print out from the fax machine to back that up and it confirmed that the faxes had in fact been sent.

So, I went back to the surgery. One by one I asked each of the receptionists to send a text fax through to the supervisor at the outpatients department – who was waiting at the other end for them.

After the third fax had been sent I phoned the supervisor – she said that they had not come through – she confirmed that they had received many others from other surgeries in the time I was with the girls sending ours. I was baffled. I had actually witnessed the faxes being sent through.

I called another receptionist in – I asked her to send the same test fax – she did and I straight away got a phone call from the supervisor to confirm she had received the test fax.

Then it dawned on me – I knew what was happening……………………….

We had recently had a new fax machine installed in the surgery. The old fax machine used to send faxes face down – this new fax machine sent faxes face up! Such a simple error to make but such a bit impact when it did.

They were actually sending blank pages through to the hospital as they were sending them upside down.

I telephoned and spoke to the Supervisor – I explained what had happened – she went into the fax office (the fax machine was in an office on its own and secretaries and administrators would pop in every so often to take the faxes off the machine) The supervisor confirmed there was in fact 3 blank sheets amongst all the other faxes waiting to be sorted. She agreed that the secretaries or administrators would have just thought they were blank pages that had just come through with other faxes.

So a simple thing like a new fax machine caused so many problems. The receptionists were mortified that they had made the mistakes – but said they were so used to using the old fax machine at times when they were so busy they just put them through as they would have normally.

So, I put a big notice over the fax machine that said

~Pease send fax facing UP!

A reminder email was sent out to everyone in the surgery including Doctors/Nurses/District Nurses/Health Visitors and other healthcare professionals who all at times used the fax machine.

That seemed to do the trick thank goodness. No more episodes of blank faxes.

So never take it for granted that a new member of staff can send a fax – always make sure that you run through the procedure with them – just in case!

I must admit I have never been a fan of fax machines!


Receptionists Training/Patient Confidentality – Taking Responsibility

Everyone working within the Health Care Sector is bound by patient confidentiality.

Every member of staff should be expected to sign a confidentiality statement when they first start working for you. Confidentiality is vital when you are working with information regarding a patient.

You must only ever disclose patient information in the patient’s best interests.

How many people do you think has access to patient information?

here are a list of some of those healthcare professionals:




HCA (Health Care Assistants)


Ambulance Technician

Other Healthcare Professionals (ie physiotherapists, dietitians, counsellors etc)

Out of Hours Personal



Administrative staff

NHS Managers

Cleaners  (They might see or hear patient information when carrying out their jobs. )

If you are working in a Surgery do you get visitors/workmen to sign a confidentiality statement when they come into your Practice?

There is every possibility that they will see or hear something regarding a patient.  If the
cleaner or workmen live close to your Practice they very well might know the patient.

A good tip for that is to have a confidentiality statement attached  to your visitor’s book – and when a visitor or workman comes into your building ask them to sign the visitor’s book after they had read the confidentiality statement and have agreed to it.

Every visitor to your Practice should be signing a visitor’s book not only to agree to your confidentiality statement but as a record that they are in the building – this can also be used for your Health and Safety Policy. In the event of a fire you have a record of what visitors are in the building.

But the most important thing is making sure that all your staff are aware of confidentiality and the importance of it and if the confidentiality is broken the consequences that it could bring to your Practice.

Confidentiality Training is vital for all new staff.