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Finding a doctor

Be it a wart or a more serious health concern, your doctor will always be your first port of call, so make sure you're registered.

Doctor holding up purple stethoscope

Finding a doctor is easy

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Registering with a doctor

Your family doctor, also known as a general practitioner (GP), may be someone you’ve known for years, but once you move away you should register with a local GP. Whether you’re in student digs or have moved to a new area, there’ll be a number of surgeries you can choose from. Ask a friend for a recommendation, or search online.

To register, you’ll need to take your medical card, which gives your personal details and NHS number, and fill in a registration form at the surgery. You can also register without a medical card by completing a GMS1 form, which should also be available at the surgery.

You’ll be given a practice leaflet telling you when the surgery is open, how to make an appointment, which health professionals are based at the surgery and the other services and clinics they operate. These can include: minor surgery, physiotherapy, counselling and clinics – such as mother and baby, family planning, drug addiction or stop smoking – and specialist equipment for people with disabilities.

Problems registering

You have the right to be registered with the GP surgery of your choice as long as you live within its catchment area and it hasn’t closed its patient list – you can be refused as a new patient on these grounds, so check with the receptionist first.

However, don’t fret if you’re ill and haven’t managed to register with a practice; GPs are required to provide emergency treatment even if you’re not registered with them. If you’re staying in an area for less than three months you can approach any local GP and ask to be seen as a temporary resident. This also applies to students who go home during the holidays if they’re registered at a surgery near uni.

Getting an appointment

The time it takes to get an appointment varies significantly from practice to practice. As a general guide, for non-urgent cases you can expect to see a doctor within two working days, but emergency cases can be seen on the same day if you call first thing in the morning.

Also, thanks to patient demand, many practices now offer extended hours on certain days, and some even open over the weekend. However, home visits are generally reserved for housebound patients, unless your condition is life threatening or requires urgent medical attention.

Whether you’ve booked in advance or on the day, it’s important to keep your appointment. If you need to cancel, call as soon as possible – doctors don’t take too kindly to missed appointments because you had a hangover or simply forgot.

You can still speak to someone when the surgery is closed as all GPs must provide an out-of-hours service, but you won’t necessarily speak to a doctor from the surgery. Since 2004, many practices have transferred this responsibility to their primary care trust (PCT) or NHS Direct. Check the practice leaflet for details.

Need medication?

If you need medication your GP will write a prescription for you to take to a pharmacy. You may have to pay for this, but there are exemptions. For those on long-term medication you may be able to collect a repeat prescription without having to see your doctor. This will be discussed at your appointment.

Embarrassing problems

No matter how gross or embarrassing your issue, you can guarantee that your doctor will have seen it all before. Whether it’s regarding pant-area problems, bathroom habits or bodily functions, try to remember that it’s their job to deal with all manner of health issues and ignoring it will only make it worse. However, if you really can’t face your GP you can always request to be treated by a different doctor.

Travelling abroad?

Doctors don’t just deal with sickness. If you’re heading off on an exotic adventure don’t leave without talking to your GP about inoculations and anti-malarials. Some may be free under the NHS, though there may be a charge for others. It’s important to think ahead as some inoculations can take up to six weeks before they take effect.

Good medical practice

Everyone has the right to expect a good standard of care from their GP as set out by The General Medical Council. You may not see your GP from one year to the next, but they should be someone whom you can rely upon for everything from the right treatment and diagnosis of illness to kindness and compassion during times of stress.

If, however, if you feel you’ve been treated badly and want to make a complaint about the care or service provided by your GP or surgery, contact the person at your surgery responsible for the practice complaints procedure. If you don’t get the response you’re after you can take it further. You can also change your doctors’ surgery without having to give a reason, and seek a second opinion if you’re not happy with your diagnosis.

Photo of doctor and stethoscope by Shutterstock.

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Updated on 25-Mar-2014

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