Birley Health Centre: Sheffield GP shares how patients can help “exhausted” staff cope with NHS strain

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“Every day we try to make up the difference, and it is never enough."

A Sheffield-based GP has spoken out about what patients can do to help staff cope with strained resources which risk making their jobs "impossible".

A Facebook post from Birley Health Centre earlier this month called attention to a "change in attitude" towards staff, particularly receptionists, who were dealing with patients shouting at them and demanding appointments straight away.

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Almost 150 new patients have joined Birley Health Centre in the last year, taking the practice’s total to 8,954 patients

Dr Ben Allen, a GP at the centre and former clinical director at NHS South Yorkshire Integrated Care Board, says that despite the practice’s patient satisfaction being at an all-time high, staff are "exhausted".

"No amount of effort can compensate for the fact that nationally, the resources we have don't match the needs of the population. Every day we try to make up the difference, and it is never enough," he said.

Birley Health Centre, on Thornbridge Road. (Picture: Google)Birley Health Centre, on Thornbridge Road. (Picture: Google)
Birley Health Centre, on Thornbridge Road. (Picture: Google)

"The work of general practice goes up every year, and has been for decades. People live longer, have more medical conditions, and more medications. We've got years of social pressure and economic pressures at play, too.

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"The work we are having to do is increasing beyond our resources. I often spend weekends reading books on improving general practice and communicating with patients on Facebook. It's not uncommon to do an 11-hour day.

"No matter how hard we work, there are only so many patients we can safely see."

Dr Allen has shared some ways that patients at Birley Health Centre and beyond can help ease the pressure on staff at general practice.

Almost 150 new patients have joined Birley Health Centre in the last year, taking the practice’s total to 8,954 patients.Almost 150 new patients have joined Birley Health Centre in the last year, taking the practice’s total to 8,954 patients.
Almost 150 new patients have joined Birley Health Centre in the last year, taking the practice’s total to 8,954 patients. | NW

Using apps and online services

Nationally, the NHS app can be used to order repeat prescriptions, which is safer than going through a receptionist or pharmacist.

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"Some people won't be able to use the app and that's fine, but if you can, it's safer. There is less process involved, and one less step where human error can occur otherwise," Dr Allen said.

His practice uses Ask My GP, which helps staff to easily move cases around to the right person. The app now accounts for 70 per cent of their appointments.

Different websites and apps are used between services, so check with your GP practice if there is one you could benefit from.

Being understanding and grateful

"Recognising that everyone in general practice is working their socks off and is exhausted, just being appreciative, and saying thank you makes a massive difference," said Dr Allen.

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"If people don't get what they want when they want it they can be quite angry. I am a patient too, I know it can be frustrating, but try not to take it out on the person in front of you."

Last year, receptionists across the country took part in an awareness campaign through the Institute of General Practice Management, highlighting the abuse they deal with on a daily basis, including hearing the phrase "if I die, it will be your fault".

The 2023 GP Patient Survey shows an impressive 96 per cent of people find the Birley Health Centre receptionists helpful, 14 per cent above the national average.

"Our team really, really cares about patients. There's no reason you would do this job if you didn't, it would be ridiculous to. You do everything that you can, and if you can't meet it, people are still frustrated at the service you are offering or assume you aren't trying," said Dr Allen.

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Give as much information as you can when booking appointments

Receptionists are bound by confidentiality, so sharing as much information with them as you can helps clinicians down the line.

Dr Allen stresses they are not making decisions about patient treatment.

"Particularly for a complex or a recurring problem, we try to get patients to see a GP or someone who knows them well. 

"But if there is a pharmacist who has particular skills that could help them, it enables them to share that work out.

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"That's uncomfortable because it's different from in the past, when you could just come in and see who you wanted."

Give feedback

Leaving a positive review if you have had a good experience, through Google or your practice’s NHS page.

Dr Allen said: "General Practice has got a job that feels impossible at the moment, but patients can support GP practices to make things better for everyone."

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