The helpline opens for calls at 9.30am, but we start at 9am. We arrive at 8.45am to make a cup of tea and check the helpline email inbox for enquiries and respond to emails. We listen to any messages on the helpline’s voicemail.

Today’s voicemails include how to find an NHS dentist, how to make a complaint about a member of staff at a GP’s surgery, how to book patient transport for a hospital appointment, and calls from patients who use the Patient Access app who need technical support.


We take a call from a man living in England who wants to know how to see a copy of his medical records his GP holds. He’d changed practices a decade ago, but his medical records from his old practice had never been sent to his new one. He’d asked the practice manager at his new practice, to find them but she’d not been able to. We suggest he contacts Primary Care Support England (PCSE). The PCSE moves patients' medical records between GP practices. We give the caller the PCSE’s contact details and suggest that when he calls the PCSE he has the following details: the addresses of his current and previous practice, dates he joined and left his former practice, and information that identifies him. We tell the caller to contact us again if he needs further information.


A man who needs technical support for the Patient Access app calls. He’d searched for a phone number for Patient Access and mistakenly called us believing we’re Patient Access. Many callers make this mistake, so many that Patient Access has provided us with a special email address we give to callers. This caller was unhappy that Patient Access does not provide telephone support but was grateful for the email address.


A woman calls asking for information on how to set up a Patient Participation Group (PPG). We direct her to our PPG toolkit on our website and suggest she visit the National Association of Patient Participation (NAPP) website, The caller wasn’t aware of our toolkit or NAPP and thanked us for the information.


A woman living in southeast England called who didn’t want any information or guidance. She said she was lonely, and this was affecting her mental health. She had no family, and a close friend has died recently. We talked about social prescribing – a way health professionals can refer patients to local services that support a patients’ social, emotional, or practical needs. We have some information on our website that we directed her to, which made her happy. We suggested other charities she may wish to contact such as Silverline, which is a service older people can call to talk to someone.


A woman called about her forthcoming medication review but was concerned that changes would be made against her will. We talked to her about her right to be involved in making choices about her medical treatment, medicines taken, and explained about shared decision making. We pointed her to our online information on shared decision making and understanding your medicines, and suggested she read that information and use it to prepare any questions in advance so she could discuss them with her GP.


A caller wanted to complain about a service; we work in partnership with the health regulator, the Care Quality Commission (CQC) and can share patients’ feedback directly to the CQC, if patients prefer that rather than contacting the regulator themselves. We also explained how the caller could contact the CQC by phone, or via the website: www.cqc.org.uk/give-feedback-on-care.


After lunch, a caller phoned regarding a close family member who is in hospital sedated so can’t communicate. The caller is not the relative’s named next of kin. The person who is named as next of kin is not keeping the caller updated about the patient and neither is the hospital, who told the caller to talk to the patient’s next of kin. The caller got in touch to understand if they have legal rights to act on behalf of the patient.

We explained that without the patient’s consent or consent of the person recorded as next of kin, being a close relative doesn’t give anyone an automatic right to act on a patient’s behalf, or to receive information about the patient’s wellbeing.

We also explained that a next of kin has no legal powers, rights or duties. Being recorded as next of kin makes a person a point of contact for the hospital to share information. For this caller, we suggested she talk to the ward manager at the hospital or the hospital’s Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS). She could also visit our website where she could read our information on next of kin. 


A woman calls us to help her complete a survey she had received following her husband’s death in hospital. The hospital is part of the National Audit of Care at End of Life (NACEL), conducted across NHS units in England, Wales and Northern Ireland to assess the care people have received at the end of their lives, and their relatives’ experiences.

We support the audit by helping people complete the survey if they don’t want to do it online, where they may have a question about the survey, or wish to give other feedback. She was pleased with the care the hospital gave her husband and the way that they worked together with members of her family. She was also impressed that the hospital provided a bed in the side-room that her husband was in so she could stay overnight. We thanked her for her feedback and submitted the questionnaire to the NHS.


We take a call from a man experiencing suicidal thoughts. We tried to sensitively address the question of whether he had made any plans to take his life. As a confidential service, we won’t normally share what we are told by a caller. However, if we are concerned that someone is at risk, we follow our safeguarding process that involves obtaining as much information as possible, such as where the caller is, their telephone and address where possible, so that a safeguarding referral can be made to the local authority adult safeguarding team, or to the police. As we are concerned this man may be at risk, once we finished our phone call we contact his local authority and make the safeguarding referral.


A woman calls looking for information about what to do about errors in her GP-held medical records. Patients do not have the right to have medical or clinical opinions removed from their medical notes. But we tell the caller she has the right to add her comments to parts of her records she considers are incorrect. We suggest the caller contact the practice manager in writing to ask how she may add her comments.


We reply to one of our voicemails left by someone who thought we were the PALS team at her local hospital. She wanted to make a complaint about her experience of A&E. We gave her the correct phone number and email address for PALS and suggested the caller read our online complaints information.


The helpline closes for the day and we join a call with all our colleagues to feedback on what calls we have dealt with.

We are constantly learning – the healthcare sector is vast, and we learn something new every day – but we also think we have enough experience and knowledge that whatever the call is about, we’ll be able to deal with it. If we are unable to give the answer while on the phone, we will offer to look into the issues further and call the person back with the information.

Links to organisations and resources mentioned in the blog

Primary Care Support England pcse.england.nhs.uk/contact-us/
National Association of Patient Participation napp.org.uk/contact/
Care Quality Commission www.cqc.org.uk/contact-us
National Audit of Care at End of Life www.nhsbenchmarking.nhs.uk/nacel
Find your local Patient Advice and Liaison Service