Patients forced to WHISPER to their GPs as the walls are too thin

Patients are having to whisper to their GP in consulting rooms ‘because the walls are so thin’

  • Surgeries aren’t soundproofed and patients worry they will be overheard 
  • Nearly 60% of survey respondents said their local GP was too small for privacy
  • It’s a ‘huge concern’ as NHS staff have a duty to protect patients confidentiality  
  • Old buildings and a lack of parking also hinders going to appointments 
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Scores of patients are having to whisper to their GPs because of thin walls, a report has suggested. 

The shock finding comes from one of the largest patient surveys ever conducted on surgery buildings in Britain.

The poll by the Patients Association found nearly six in ten patients said their local practice was too small to allow for private conversations.

A lack of soundproofing in rooms and space in reception areas were areas raised in the report, based on answers from 703 patients. 

Patients raised a lack of space and soundproofing in GPs as a concern, compromising their private conversations, a new report suggests

Rachel Power, chief executive of the Patients Association, branded the situation a ‘huge concern’, going against patients’ rights.  

The report said that some people felt it was ‘impossible’ to speak to reception staff without being overheard in the busy waiting area.

The report said 41 per cent said their surgery had a poor environment that made them feel anxious or stressed.

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Ms Power said: ‘It’s a huge concern that the majority of people completing our survey reported issues relating to privacy and confidentiality at their local surgery.

‘This goes against the law and official NHS guidance, and needs to be addressed.

‘Patients who are sick and unwell will already be anxious about going to see a GP – the last thing they should need to worry about is whether their private conversations will be overheard by other people.’

Confidentiality was one of the main issues raised in the poll, but disabled access and old waiting rooms were also listed. 

While three-quarters of those asked said there was a ramp at the entrance to the building, less than half (46 per cent) had access to a lift, forcing doctors to carry out appointments downstairs.

Narrow corridors and poorly-designed buildings often make manoeuvring in a wheelchair difficult, patients said.

Comments from respondents included that surgeries built as early as the 1970s, were not fit to hold an increasing population. 

Patients also commented on the cleanliness of their surgery, with ‘lingering smells’ in the toilet described as off-putting. 

One in three people said a lack of parking or decent public transport was hindering their access to GPs – with many missing their appointments while hunting for a parking space. 

The report called for a number of changes to avoid embarrassing situations, such as a separate area for reception with a private area where patients can talk without being overheard. 

It added: ‘There is a legal duty for health professionals to protect and conserve patient confidentiality at all times whilst buildings are not always conducive to this. 

‘An interesting dichotomy is raised by patient feedback (including in this survey) which indicates that many people have traditionally low expectations and are prepared to accept poor surroundings in NHS settings.’ 

Previous research have shown that a fear of discussing health with a hostile receptionist puts people off going to their GP.

Almost half of patients are deterred by seeing their GP in fear of being grilled by reception staff, the research, published in the Journal of Public Health in 2016, said. 


More than 2.5 million patients across England could see their GP surgeries close in the next five years, experts revealed last week.

The Royal College of General Practitioners said 762 practices in the UK are at risk of closing within the next five years because at least three quarters of their doctors are aged 55 or over and approaching retirement.

Experts said so many closures would have a ‘catastrophic’ effect on the health service. 

Appointment waiting times could get even longer, workloads would grow and more people could end up queueing at A&E for minor illnesses.

Campaigners warned the potential closures would be ‘dangerous’ for patients and are calling for ‘drastic action’ to encourage new GPs to join the profession.

The situation is worst in Southend in Essex, where 13 of the area’s 35 GP practices are at risk of closing, potentially affecting nearly 39,000 patients.

A third of surgeries in the London borough of Havering could shut down, and more than 85,000 patients could lose their GP in Sandwell and West Birmingham.

Only around a quarter of areas of England have no practices at risk of closure, according to the RCGP’s estimates.

Figures from the Royal College of General Practitioners have revealed 762 GP practices across the UK are at risk of closing in the next five years (Map shows the proportion of surgeries in each area which are at risk of closing)

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