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What stops you seeing your GP?

Lesley Dobson / 13 October 2016

Do receptionists put you off seeing your GP? You’re not alone, says a new survey.

GP receptionist
GP receptionists perform a valuable role, but some patients feel uncomfortable discussing their symptoms with them, according to a survey by Cancer Research UK.

People can give lots of different reasons for not seeing their GP. According to a new survey by Cancer Research UK, published in the Journal of Public Health, one of the highest barriers to seeing a GP was a dislike of having to discuss their symptoms with receptionists.

Forty percent of the nearly 2,000 people in the survey gave this answer, making it the third most common barrier against seeing a GP. The top two barriers were finding it difficult to get an appointment with a particular GP (42%), or to get an appointment at a convenient time (42%).

Half of over-50s struggle to see their GP on the day they fall ill

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Worrying about what the GP might find wrong with them, having tests carried out, and not wanting to be seen as someone who makes a fuss were also seen as barriers to making an appointment with your GP. These may just seem like excuses, but these barriers are important. The longer it takes for you to be given a diagnosis of cancer, the longer it will be before the cancer is treated.

UK cancer survival is currently lower than in other countries, and that needs to change. “Diagnosing cancer early is something we have to take seriously, so anything that might prevent people from getting their symptoms checked needs to be overcome, “ says Dr Richard Roope, Cancer Research UK’s GP expert.

“We need to ensure that patients are able to get appointments at a convenient time, can book an appointment to see a particular doctor, and aren’t put off coming to see them in the first place, This may mean more emphasis on training front desk staff, including receptionists, to deal more sensitively with patients.”

Dr Jodie Moffat, lead author and head of early diagnosis at Cancer Research UK, said: “There’s still more to learn about the things that may put people off going to their doctor, and how important they are when it comes to actually influencing behaviour.”

“But it’s clear that a new sign or symptom, or something that has stayed or got worse over time, needs to be checked out by a GP. Don’t let anything put you off. The chances of surviving cancer are greater when it’s caught at an early stage, before it’s had a chance to spread, and seeking help sooner rather than later could make all the difference.”

Spotting signs of cancer early is particularly important because more of us are likely to develop cancer in the coming years. According to a recent Cancer Research UK study published in the British Journal of Cancer, half a million people a year will be diagnosed with cancer each year by 2035, if current trends carry on as they are.

Learn more about cancer types, symptoms and treatments on our cancer hub

This would mean there would be an extra 150,000 cases being diagnosed every year in 20 years time. This would push the figures up to almost 244,000 cases of cancer in women (up from around 173,000 now), and more than 270,000 cases of cancer being diagnosed in men (up from around 179,000 now).

Don’t be another cancer statistic. If you’re worried about an unusual symptom, such as a lump, pain, or bleeding, make a doctor’s appointment, and make sure you turn up to it. 

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.