Wednesday, January 30, 2008

 

What Do You Do When Someone Else Is Jobsworthed?

I’ve been tangled up in the frustrating, depressing coils of unhelpful bureaucracy more than once, and can generally talk my way through it (being both glib and gobby as required). This afternoon, however, I was stood behind a couple who were being given the runaround in a grotesquely rude way, and I was at a loss to know what to do. I’d gone over to pick up my repeat prescription from my local GPs’ surgery – a thrilling highlight to the day – and ended up waiting nearly twenty minutes behind a couple who the receptionist painfully obviously didn’t want to register.

I’m sure everyone gets stuck behind someone else in a queue from time to time, and it’s easy to blame the person in front of you. I know I tend to, and if it’s me that’s taking the long time at the head of a queue with some unusually complex demands, I feel embarrassed at keeping all the people behind me. This afternoon was quite different. I could hear more than enough of the conversation to wonder just what the receptionist was playing at, and to feel increasingly embarrassed at the way the people in front of me were being treated.

In short, the couple at the desk were trying to register with the practice – which, incidentally, has “REGISTERING NOW! We are now registering new patients” at the head of its website at this very moment – and the receptionist was being as obstructive as she possibly could. It was very difficult to see any possible reason for this other than that the couple were evidently new to Britain. Their English was faultless, but their accents (possibly Italian?), the passports they were presenting and the content of their conversation made this very plain. As far as I could tell, they had every single thing that the receptionist was asking for. It’s just that the receptionist kept asking for things again that they’d already presented, making them answer the same questions again, and saying that they could only register, if you’ll believe this, on separate days. Their little boy, for example, couldn’t register just then, oh no; he’d have to be registered when his dad came in for a medical check-up. Then she offered an appointment for the father on the 8th of February, but couldn’t offer the little boy one straight afterwards, because he wasn’t registered. Perhaps she just didn’t think to tell them that, twice a day, you can ring and make a within-twenty-four-hours appointment on a first come, first served basis? Or perhaps she was trying to discourage them from registering? And, of course, it was only when the little boy came in for his appointment – whenever that might be – that they could present his immunisation details. But they had the papers with them, insisted his papers, waving them. No, sorry; they had to take them away, and bring them back. I could see the photocopier from where I was standing. Wouldn’t it have been simpler just to attach a copy to the father’s file?

The father was getting rather resigned, and the mother rather stressed, but both were reasonable and polite throughout. So when, after a lot of this, the mother asked why she should have to come in five times for the same thing, what do you think the response was? Not, ‘I’m sorry, it’s been a long day’; not ‘I’m sorry, I know it seems tiresome, but everyone has to go through this’; not even the standard jobsworth ‘I’m sorry, these are the rules’. Just “If you’re not happy with the service here” – wait for it – “then you can register with the Barkantine Practice. They’re taking on new patients at the moment.” Just like you proclaim to be. And when the receptionist started upbraiding them with “Why haven’t you registered with the NHS before?” I knew the answer as well as the couple in front of me did, and so, having listened to much more of the conversation than I had, must the receptionist. First, it’s none of her business, anyway. And second, there’s no possibility that she didn’t know the answer before she was told: “We’ve only just got here.” She could have said, ‘I’m sorry, but it’s more complicated when you haven’t registered before.’ She didn’t. She clearly meant, ‘Why don’t you just f*** off back where you came from?’

Now, the surgery wasn’t busy. While I was there, only one other young couple came in. They saw the little boy playing round the outer door as they did so, and immediately went to his parents and alerted them, in a friendly and concerned rather than an officious manner. And when the little boy – who’d stood patiently for the first few minutes, but had clearly got very bored – wandered over to some of the NHS pamphlets on display, found some cards about smoking, picked them up, shuffled them, then accidentally dropped half of them on the floor, naturally I helped pick them up. His dad turned round to help and, as he wasn’t in mid-conversation with the jobsworth for that lone moment, I felt compelled to apologise to him, and tell him they weren’t usually that rude. Meaning ‘the staff here,’ but thinking ‘British people’. I wished him good luck, and shook his little boy’s hand when he said thank you. But that felt rather inadequate.

I’ve been registered there for a dozen years. All the doctors I’ve seen have been polite and professional, and usually friendly (if not always able to treat my exciting problems), and the receptionists have always been polite to me. I’ve never seen them rude to anyone, in fact. So I hope today was a shocking aberration, and not a policy. But what can I do, other than just writing a stiff letter? And what should I do if I see something like that again?

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Comments:
Worse yet to come to a NHS near you?

http://stopunum.com/british-sicko-coming-soon-or-is-it-here-already/
http://stopunum.com/big-brother-britain/
 
You should leap over the counter, slam the receptionist against the leaflet rack by the lapels and make her eat a copy of the patients' charter, then bludgeon her to death with the suggestions box. That's what I do (don't forget to swirl your cloak around your face on the way out).
 
It's stories like these that make me gingerly eye up my tinfoil hat. You will be familiar, I hope, with my views on the ID scheme. One of the benefits put forward by NuLabor is that it will ease access to public services. I suspect that in order to make this an easier sell, wicked men lurking in shadows have been orchestrating ways in which to make accessing public services more difficult. A case in point is the level of ID now required to pick up a parcel if, for some reason, you were out at 10:30 when the package was delivered. I dunno, perhaps you have a job or something. The provision of the slip that the kind ly postperson has put through your letter box is not sufficient to collect and you must now provide your passport and a recent utility bill or similar. Another benefit of the scheme will be the ability for an employer to establish whether someone has the right to be and to work in this country. But we already have something for that, called National Insurance, and that would work fine if someone somewhere hadn't decided that the Department for Work and Pensions should start giving out National Insurance numbers to people, not just when they hadn't supplied proof of a right to work, but when it was known that they in fact did not have the right to work. This is the equivalent of a burglar alarm salesman throwing a rock through your window a week before he starts on his door-to-door.
 
My local doctor's receptionist when I lived in Belfast was even worse, and would interrogate you to see if you were ill enough to deserve an appointment in ten days' time. I wish I'd had the courage to write to the doctors in the practice complaining then, and I hope you find the courage to do so now.

The scales have fallen from my eyes since I moved to Belgium. You have to pay €15 per consultation, so it is not free at the point of service; but you get 80% of that refunded, and the payoff is you get treated decently - I've never had to wait 24 hours to see the doctor, and never had to wait a week to see a specialist, since I moved here.
 
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