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Poor confidentiality at reception desks, issues with access for disabled people and dated waiting rooms are some of the biggest problems patients face in their local GP surgery buildings.
The new report from the Patients Association, named Patients’ views on making best use of GP premises, has found that patients are concerned about various internal and external aspects of their local GP practice premises, with confidentiality emerging as a key issue raised by patients, particularly the risk of being overheard at the reception desk or when telephoning practices.
In fact, of the 720 respondents to the survey and focus groups, 58 per cent said that there was not enough space at the practice to allow reasonable privacy, with some stating that it was ‘impossible’ to speak to the receptionist without being overheard, despite NHS staff being legally bound to protect and conserve patient confidentiality at all times.
Other concerns included access, both in terms of physically getting to the building and in accessing the building. While 75 per cent of respondents said there was a ramp at the entrance to the building, 46 per cent of respondents reported that their building had a lift. On the same note, concerns were raised over doctors having to come downstairs to see patients, difficulties in moving around the buildings in wheelchairs, and difficulties in getting to the reception desk due to lack of space to turn and manoeuvre.
Additionally, four in ten respondents stated that their GP practice was a poor environment that made them feel anxious or stressed, while the report highlights that the buildings that house general practice in particular are often old and in need of serious investment and expansion.
Rachel Power, chief executive of the Patients Association, said: “It’s a huge concern that the majority of people completing our survey reported issues relating to privacy and confidentiality at their local surgery – this goes against the law and official NHS guidance, and needs to be addressed. Patients who are sick and unwell will already be anxious about going to see a GP – the last thing they should need to worry about is whether their private conversations will be overheard by other people.
“We recommend that all existing and new GP premises should ensure that people with disabilities are able to easily access the building and internal rooms, and that health and safety and disability legislation is always applied. Our other recommendations are based on what patients have told us they want to see: adequate parking and good transport links, improved signage throughout buildings and better air quality control in waiting rooms.
“Despite the concerns that people have, it’s clear that patients value the NHS and seek high quality care as a first priority when they visit their GP. Funding should primarily go into improving standards of care – and patients agree that this should be the case – but it should not be ignored that many buildings housing general practice are often old and in need of serious investment.”
Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: "One issue that both GPs and patients have been voicing for some time now, and which is reiterated in this report, is the need to invest in GP premises to ensure they are easily accessible for patients with all sorts of disability and limitations - and this has become increasingly apparent with our growing and ageing population as more and more people live with multiple, chronic conditions and rely on regular visits to their local surgery to receive the care they need.
"Some practices are able to work around or make modest changes to overcome issues with their premises, but often the severe lack of resources across primary care has meant that many are functioning without essential structural improvements that could positively impact patients' experiences of a practice. The same applies to concerns highlighted in the report about patient confidentiality at GP reception desks, which can sometimes become overcrowded due to waiting areas that are too small or have poor acoustics and don't lend themselves to the privacy that patients expect and deserve.
"We understand that for some patients, discussion of their appointment with anyone other than their GP can make them uncomfortable – but we would like to assure them that GP receptionists are highly-trained members of the practice team and any questions they do ask patients questions about their health will be to ensure their visit to the surgery runs as smoothly as possible, and they will always strive to treat patient data as sensitively as possible.
"It's essential, particularly as patient demand grows, that these issues are rectified with better investment in general practice; issues that can have almost as much impact on patient care as ensuring surgeries are equipped with the right clinicians, medicines, and follow-up services. That's why we need to see NHS England's GP Forward View, which promises an extra £2.5 billion a year for general practice, delivered, in full, as soon as possible, along with guarantees that general practice will receive a significant share of the funding for primary and community care outlined in the NHS Long-Term Plan."