Behind the scenes of reception at busy Sheffield doctor's surgery as demand for services 'triples'
Behind the reception at Sloan Medical Centre in Woodseats, the phone is ringing.
And on most days it will ring up to 1,000 times, with all calls handled by the four headset wearing receptionists working behind the scenes to connect some 13,000 patients across the area with the help they need.
“When you go home at night you can still hear the phone ringing”, smiles Helen Deakin, patient services manager at the practice, who has worked in a doctor’s reception since she was 16.
“We ask every patient what they are calling for because we can book them straight into our Covid centre, we can book a physio directly, we have nurse practitioners. People think we are just being nosy but our motto is to get patients to the right person at the right time.
"There is nothing we haven’t heard.”
The Sheffield Telegraph went behind the scenes at the medical centre as doctor’s surgeries across the country face an increase in demand and pressure. Frustrated patients locally and across the country have complained of delays in accessing appointments or help, and doctors in Sheffield have been forced to speak out on the issue.
Helen added: “We get a lot of abuse from people who don’t want to tell us the reason why they are calling, or if we haven’t got an appointment for them. Demand is massive at the moment. I would say for everyone the workload has tripled. We have all gone home upset sometimes and we are trying our best.
"I think maybe its because people are coming out and they want to get the Covid vaccine – we are trying to book those in as well.”
Around 100 calls a day are from patients keen to get their vaccine, Helen added, although official advice is to wait until you are contacted.
Staff at the centre have volunteered to help deliver vaccines, and have kept on top of ever changing advice during the Covid-19 pandemic. Plastic screens now separate the receptionists, and patients must confirm they have no symptoms via intercom before they can enter.
Mum-of-two Helen, who lives in Woodseats, said the staff were as ‘scared’ as the public during that time.
"We’ve all got families and elderly parents too”, she said.
"It’s been the hardest period I can remember since starting the job. We all pulled together. A crisis can bring the worst out in you but it can also bring the best out in you.”
A single call can require the receptionists to liase with up to five people, depending on what is required, and the admin is considerable.
Despite the challenges, the receptionist team are unanimous in their love of the job.
Helen said: “I just love it. It is such a varied role. You basically never know what you are going to get. I feel like nobody knows what it is really like. Doctor’s receptionists get a bad rep but they all work so hard and care.”
Colleague Gill Elwood said : “Some things do play on your mind when you get home. We do care and try to help people, that’s why we do the job.”
And Joan Mangle, who has done the job for 30 years, added: “I love contact with patients. It gets to when they know you by name!”
On The Front Line looks at the “Unsung heroes of general practice”, page 19.