"Taken aback by exchange with receptionist"

About: Ayr Hospital / General Medicine

(as the patient),

I had an appointment at Ayr Hospital and was rather taken aback when the receptionist, after confirming all my contact details, asked me for my nationality. I answered that I was British and this was followed up with another question – did I have any other nationality?

I was a bit stumped for an answer to this, there was an ambulance driver or crew member nearby who heard this exchange and said I should just say I was Scottish. What made the whole thing more offensive is that whilst I was there the receptionist must have seen at least a dozen other people, I heard her confirm their contact details but not one other person was asked about their nationality.

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Response from Eunice Goodwin, Patient Feedback Manager for NHS Ayrshire and Arran, Quality Improvement and Governance Team, NHS Ayrshire and Arran

picture of Eunice Goodwin

Dear Game780,

I so understand why you would be taken aback by this and to be honest, if I was asked, I would wonder about it too. In response to your question, I have found the answer from those who know. Thank you so much for asking, as it gives me a chance to explain the background to you and others who may not appreciate why front of house staff are asking this question.

Although Scottish Government has been asking health boards to record patients’ ethnic origin for some time now, our records show that we have not been very good at recording this in the past. This is being asked at clinics as part of a service improvement initiative to address the gap in our knowledge and it is in line with The Scottish Government, Information Services Division requirements (the official branch of health that records all sorts of health related information) and the is in line with practice in other Health Boards in Scotland.

But why do we need the information? (I hear you ask). There are some health issues that are more common in specific ethnic groups and if we know ethnicity, we are in a better position to diagnose and treat people most effectively. It can help to direct us in a way we might not otherwise expect to go in. There are also health inequalities in the diverse Scottish population and to reduce these we need accurate and complete information to ensure we can reduce inequalities.

Why were the other people at the clinic not asked? Well ethnicity is not something that changes and once it is recorded, it remains in the patient administration system, so you should not be asked this question again.

Some people may find it distasteful to be asked this question and I am sorry if they do. Should they feel that way, there is an option to respond – ‘prefer not to say’.

I hope you find this information helpful and thank you again for raising it with us.

Kind regards,


  • {{helpful}} {{helpful == 1 ? "person thinks" : "people think"}} this response is helpful