Why are GP receptionists so grumpy?

This morning, I picked up my phone and braced myself to be met by a deep sigh or a stern voice on the receiving end.   I was about to ask if I could have a medical appointment changed on Monday.  Since living in the UK, my experience with attempting to shift any medical appointments, which have clearly been carved in stone and erected on Mount Sinai itself, has not gone down so well.  It’s not that I’ve moved very many medical appointments, maybe 3-4 since living in the UK, but as soon as I’d start to form the words, “I’m so sorry, but…”, they’d say:

Fine.  We’ll cancel it then.  When would you like to re-book? 

Okay, so the words may not paint the highly irritated response that I do get, but this sentiment can sum up the icy reply I’ve come to expect: It ain’t what you say, it’s how you say it.  They’ve often come across as annoyed, irritated and rude.

This morning was different.  It wasn’t my normal doctor’s office I was calling.   I was ringing to change my orthodontic appointment and the receptionist, completely unfazed by request, was helpful…..polite even.  I thought perhaps she hadn’t heard my request.  I repeated, “I’m so sorry to do this.”  She wasn’t cross.  She wasn’t rude.  I continued, anticipating that at any moment, she would unleash her systematic fury on me, “I really don’t want to mess you guys around.”

“Well, we can’t fit you in later on Monday because that is quite full and the following Monday he will be on annual leave for two weeks.   What about seeing another orthodontist on that Monday and it is at 8.45am?  How would you feel about that?  Would you be okay with that?”

Baffled.  Completely baffled.

I pause.  “Um yeah.  I don’t mind who I see.  I’ll be up”

This was a new experience for me.  Courteous and helpful customer service from a medical receptionist.  Don’t get me wrong, I realize orthodontics doesn’t carry with it the burden of life and death – except when you potentially encounter a teenager who is particularly adverse to a brace.  I’m sure there are other kind receptionists out there, but I have struggled to find you.

What’s funny is that The Duchess has been quite poorly and I decided to take her to see the GP today.  (That isn’t funny at all.  I have not been a mother, I have been a grizzly bear tamer for the last 24 hours.)  I booked the appointment.   I wasn’t even cancelling and even though I was clear that the appointment was for my one year old, the receptionist became annoyed when she tried to book it for me.

“It’s not for me.  It’s for my daughter.”

“WHO’S it for?!”

“My daughter.”

“Is it urgent?  We have nothing available today, but urgent appointments.”

“Well, I wouldn’t say it was urgent.  We’re not sure what’s wrong.  We think it could be an ear infection.”

“I’ll put you in for an urgent appointment at 1pm.”

Grateful to see the GP before the weekend, but  baffled for other reasons, I reply:

“Um, okay.”

When I got to the surgery, The Duchess and I wasted time in the waiting room.  I welcomed the fact that it was empty.  If it had been heaving with groaning patients while, grinning, The Duchess did laps around the table, flinging magazines onto the floor, I think I would have had to double over and pretend that I was about to die.   While she sat looking pitiful in my lap threw a rotund hippo across the floor, I saw this hanging on the wall.

Forgive the bad quality. I was trying to wrangle the magazine-tossing child.  And P.S. IS there a good reason why you are so grumpy?  IS there?!

It seems I’m not the only one who feels that the relationship between the receptionists and patient is lacking.  Either that or, Lord help me, they have the house wired.

Do you really think there is a good reason GP receptionists are so grumpy?  I know I’m not the most pleasant of patients when I feel like a big pile of poo on the floor, but it doesn’t bless me to speak with someone who treats me like a big pile of poo on the floor either.  So tell us, why the grumpy service?  


10 thoughts on “Why are GP receptionists so grumpy?

    1. Living Life as an Expat Parent Post author

      Oh yes, that. I didn’t get into it because I would have ranted, but obviously people will wonder. The reason is emotional detachment to avoid burn-out, but I would argue that I successfully emotionally detach, working with the homeless, and still manage not to be a jerk!

  1. Jeremy

    This is an absolute universal truth and made me literally laugh out loud because it is ALWAYS so true at our GPs! It’s like they’re punishing you for being ill. Ha ha – great post. Next time you or Layla are poorly, please take a better quality picture.

  2. Moniqueque

    Oh, I have heard such mixed reviews from expats experiencing the NHS! Especially about trying to get appointments, and needing to ‘convince’ the office that indeed their child really does need to be seen. Have to say, I’ve met my share of cranky US receptionists, too.

    1. Living Life as an Expat Parent Post author

      I definitely sing the praises of the NHS, personally. I wouldn’t know if it was a UK thing or wether people in the US find the same because I’ve spent most of my adult years here, but interesting to know!

  3. megalagom

    Interesting- I was a dental assistant/receptionist for 8 years in NY and our patients said that they came back because we were so nice to them, not because the doctors were special, they just wanted to be treated with care. It might be different with Dental offices though- I get really pissed when I meet a nasty receptionist, it is NOT hard to suck it up and act nice. It’s your job. Not just to make appointments and answer phones, but to make people feel comfortable and WELCOMED.

  4. happy GP receptionist

    lol i can tell you I understand why there are so many grumpy GP receptionists. Its all due to displaced anger from the patients, I work in a large GP practice. I put on a smile and am caring for each individual even though they yell at, and threaten me. Just remember that your GP receptionist puts up with more than other receptionists. Patients lash out at us if their doctor is late, patients seem to think that we know all about why they are there and their family history, they seem to think we control who the doctor sees and when….sorry its the doctor who dictates how many patients he/she sees in a day. Patients get angry at US when there is a 3 hour wait for walk-in….hey here’s a thought, dont come to walk-in, make an appointment and you wont be waiting for 3 hours lol and then there are the very few that think just because we are receptionists that they can do and say whatever they please and get away with it…..hey guess what buddy, we inform the doctors when you yell at us and verbally threaten us….your doctor knows all! 🙂 But at the end of the day we look back and see the good that shone through the bad and we feel like we made a difference at least in one persons life.

    1. Living Life as an Expat Parent Post author

      Thanks for commenting. I’m so sure there are many nice GP receptionists out there and I’m glad you are one of them, I haven’t had much experience with the polite ones. The thing about the article is that it argues that they are grumpy because they have to emotionally detach from the job due to the issues they are dealing with. I thought that was a pretty weak argument. I deal with very vulnerable, homeless people in my line of work and they can get upset, angry, frustrated, etc – and I still manage to be polite. It’s understandable if they are annoyed that the guy on the line before me was a butthole, but they shouldn’t take it out on their next patient (aka me!)


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