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Patients highlight confidentiality issues at GP practices, survey finds

by Valeria Fiore
10 January 2019

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More than half of patients think there is not enough space at the reception desk to discuss their issues in private, a survey has found.
The survey by The Patients Association found that 58% of the 720 respondents feel their practice lacks privacy.
Some patients said they feared their conversations would be overheard when speaking at the reception desk or on the telephone, due to the way the reception area is built in their practices.
One respondent said that a practice had relocated their administration team on the first floor so that calls would be not overheard.
Responding to the survey’s findings, RCGP chair Professor Helen-Stokes Lampard said that sometimes GP reception desks are overcrowded because waiting areas are too small or ‘have poor acoustics and don’t lend themselves to the privacy that patients expect and deserve’.
She said: ‘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 ask patients 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.’
Key findings
Some patients lamented poor building design and access. Although 75% of them said their building had a ramp at the entrance, 46% said it had no lift, with some commenting that it was difficult to move around the building with a wheelchair or a pushchair.
Reaching GP premises was also problematic for some patients, with some citing parking as a key problem, especially for practices located in urban areas with limited parking space.
The survey also found that 45% of patients felt relaxed when visiting their practice, while 41% said their practice environment made them feel anxious or stressed, with 115 respondents saying their building was old and needed refurbishment.
‘Buildings often too old’
The Patients Association chief executive Rachel Power said that ‘it should not be ignored that many buildings housing general practice are often old and in need of serious investment’, although funding should primarily go to improve care.
RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard  said: ‘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.’
An NHS England spokesperson said that almost £400m has been invested ‘in the last three years in GP consulting rooms, bigger buildings and better facilities’.
They added: ‘The NHS Long Term Plan makes it clear, GPs are a priority and there will be an extra £4.5billion a year invested in primary and community care by 2023/24.’