Receptionists have an essential role as part of Milton Keynes hospital’s frontline staff. They are the first link for many patients who can be in pain, upset or anxious when they arrive.
And the role is even more demanding for the 20 staff who work round the clock in our A&E reception.
They are a close-knit team who have to use a wide range of skills, from efficient administration, to empathy and understanding when dealing with patients and their relatives.
Audrey Boden, A&E operations co-ordinator, is full of praise for the receptionists.
“Working in A&E is completely different from other areas of the hospital because you never know who is going to come through the doors,” she says. “It takes a very special kind of personality to be able to deal with the unexpected. Every single shift is different – there is no way of knowing how busy we will be.”
Among the team are Debbie Brent and Julia Gibbens, who between them, have worked on A&E reception for 58 years. It’s a long-serving crew – all but two of the receptionists have worked at the hospital for at least 10 years.
One of the big issues facing A&E is the demand all staff face. Over 75,000 people walk through the doors for treatment each year, compared to just 17,000 30 years ago.
Debbie says: “We used to see about 30 people in a four-hour period. Now we can see at least that many in the space of an hour.”
Julia adds: “As well as being in pain, people are often exceptionally stressed when they come in. People can get annoyed when there is a long wait so we do sometimes bear the brunt of that, but we deal with it as calmly as possible.”
A&E receptionists take all the details of the patients coming in, both on foot and by ambulance. They also prepare notes, make appointments for follow-on appointments in areas such as the fracture clinic and discharge patients off the bed board once doctors have seen them.
“You do need to be able to think on your feet and use your initiative,” says Julia. “Good communication skills and a friendly manner are essential. People are often very frightened when they arrive and a kind word can make all the difference to them, especially the elderly. We see every situation imaginable – no two days are the same. That’s what makes the job so interesting.”
The reception team are fortunate to have additional help in the shape of several volunteers, who help with paperwork.
“We couldn’t do our job so well without our volunteers,” says Debbie. “When you have a really busy shift, with people queuing, it’s a great help to have support.”
The team doesn’t use bank or agency staff to cover any shortfalls – staff will always help out at the last minute if needed.