Your Doctor or GP
General Practitioners (GPs) provide a wide range of health services, including:
- advice on health problems;
- examinations and treatment;
- prescriptions for medicines; and
- referrals to other health services and social services.
Usually a small group of GPs work together in a practice, often referred to as a surgery, clinic or health centre. GPs provide consultations in their practices and through home visits.
Registering with a GP
Everyone in your household or family needs to register with a GP surgery. To register with a GP you need to find a local practice that you are able to attend appointments at.
Once you have found a local GP, you need to contact them to give them your medical card details. If you don’t have a medical card, the surgery will give you a form to complete. Once you have been accepted as a patient, your medical records will be transferred to the new surgery and you will be sent a new medical card.
You are entitled to a health check when you first register with a new GP. It’s a good idea to take advantage of this, even if you are feeling fit and well.
Sometimes you may not be able to register with your chosen GP because they already have enough patients, or because you live too far away. If this is the case, you will have to choose another GP in your local area.
Changing your GP
You have the right to change your GP without giving them a reason. To do this, you follow the same process as you do when registering with a new GP.
Visiting your GP
If you’re aged over 75 years old, you are eligible for free annual health and medication checks at your GP surgery. You should really take advantage of this, even if you’re feeling fit and well.
Before your appointment
- Book your appointment by phone, website or at reception
- You can ask for a double appointment if you feel that you need more time for discussion. Book in advance
- You may have to wait for a non-urgent appointment. If you think you need to see someone urgently, tell reception and you may be seen or phoned on the same day. Home visits can be arranged.
When visiting your GP, it is a good idea to go prepared with as much information as possible on your symptoms to help them to diagnose and assess your condition. It’s a good idea to write down any questions you have or symptoms you have had before you go.
You may feel anxious and confused when visiting your GP, especially if you are feeling very unwell or haven’t been to see your GP for a long time. Please remember that GPs are used to nervous patients and they are there to answer any questions you may have.
If you require further support, remember that you can take a friend or relative into the appointment with you. Often two sets of ears are better than one.
During your appointment
Don’t be afraid to ask questions, or ask for clarification if you don’t understand anything.
You may want to write down some notes whilst you are talking to your GP, especially if they use any medical terms that you are not familiar with.
All the personal information you give to the doctor or nurse is confidential. This means that your health care won’t be discussed with anyone, including your family, without your permission.
The only time when a doctor or nurse is unable to keep your information private is in the unusual situation where they hear about a child or adult being in danger or at risk of serious harm
Before you leave your appointment
Before you leave the appointment with your GP, you could ask the following questions to ensure that you understand what is happening:
What might be wrong?
- can I check that I’ve understood what you said?
- can I have a copy of any letters written about me?
Information about any further tests (such as blood tests and scans)
- what are the tests for?
- how and when will I get the results?
- who do I contact if I don’t get the results?
Information about treatment
- are there any side effects or risks?
- how long will I need treatment for?
- how will I know if the treatment is working?
- what will happen if I don’t have any treatment?
- is there anything else I should stop or avoid doing?
- is there anything else I can do to help myself?
Information about what happens next
- what happens next? Do I come back to see you?
- who do I contact if things get worse?
- where can I go for more information? Is there a support group?
NHS.UK has a useful page giving advice on how to get the most from a doctor’s appointment.
- if you need to take any medication, your GP will give you a prescription which you can take to any pharmacy
- tell the pharmacist if you need support
- the pharmacist will give you your medication and will be able to answer your questions
- the pharmacist will check if you need to pay for prescriptions or if you can get them free
- you may be eligible for free NHS prescriptions. Check on the NHS BSA eligibility checker.
If you are unable to get to your GP’s surgery because you’ve got a serious illness, you can call to arrange a home visit. However, such visits are only for medical reasons and are not for your personal convenience.
GPs visit patients at home when they’re confined due to illness or disability; or when urgent treatment could be administered more quickly by a home visit. If you call the surgery to request a home visit, your GP will probably call you back to find out more about your problem before deciding whether the visit is really necessary.
NHS 111 are available 24 hours a day every day. If you have an urgent medical need outside of office hours they may be able to arrange for an out of hours GP to visit you at home.
Your GP may decide to refer you to a specialist, such as a consultant at a hospital, if they think that you would benefit from more specialist advice.
NHS e-Referral Service (formerly Choose and Book)
If you live in England and need non-emergency medical treatment, you can choose to have it at any hospital in the country. This scheme is called NHS e-Referral Service.
You may wish to choose a hospital other than your local one for a number of different reasons (for example, to be closer to a relative who can visit you, because you can have your operation sooner at a particular hospital, or because you have heard good reports about a particular hospital). Your GP must now discuss these options with you when referring you for further treatment. You can choose whether to make your choice immediately, or to take some time to consider the options and make your decision later.
Information to support your choice
The NHS provides information on every hospital and clinic, so that you can decide which one you want to use. This information includes local transport details and whether or not the hospital provides services such as car parking, disabled access, a visitor canteen and shops.
There are also star ratings or performance standards, which are based on information collected to show how health services are doing in relation to some of the main targets set by the government for the NHS. They are also based on information from surveys of patients and staff.
Choice will not be offered to patients where other factors are thought to be more important, such as emergency admissions, rapid access chest pain clinics, cancer services, and mental health.
For further information, visit the NHS e-Referral Service website.
Exercise Referral and Cardiac Rehabilitation Schemes
Exercise Referral Scheme
If your GP thinks that you will benefit from an exercise programme as part of your treatment, they may refer to an Exercise Referral Scheme at a local leisure or community centre.
The scheme is specifically designed for people who are new to physical activity. It is not intended for those people who simply need to do more exercise, but is for those:
- who have a medical condition, such as arthritis or diabetes, which will be alleviated by regular exercise; or
- whose doctor or practice nurse believes that they need the structure and support of a special programme to allow them to take part in physical activity.
The exercise programmes are subsidised and, after an initial one-to-one session, are held as group sessions usually lasting between 10 and 15 weeks.
Cardiac Rehabilitation Scheme
If you have suffered from a heart attack or other heart problems, your GP may refer you to to a Cardiac Rehabilitation Scheme.
The scheme runs a rolling programme of exercise, relaxation and information for patients. Physiotherapists and exercise instructors review patients cardiac status, as well as giving advice and guidance about how to exercise appropriately for your condition.
Some complementary therapies are gradually becoming more widely available on the NHS. At the moment, the kind of complementary treatment you can access depends on where you live. However, complementary therapies are being introduced in more healthcare settings, including hospitals, GP surgeries and community clinics. Ask your GP about what’s available in your area.
Accessing your medical records
You, or your representative, have a right to access your health records under the Data Protection Act 1988. If you want to read your health records, you can ask to do this at your GP surgery and can arrange a time to go in and read them. You don’t have to give a reason for wanting to see your records.
You may be asked to submit your request in writing. It’s a good idea to state the dates you want to see, for example from January 2009 to January 2015, and to send the letter by recorded delivery and to keep a copy. By law, you must receive a response to your letter within 40 days.
Your family are not allowed to see your health records unless you give them written permission to do so, or if they have Power of Attorney.
If you don’t have a GP, or you are applying on behalf of someone who has died, you should write to the Medical Records Officer at your local health authority. In Newcastle, this is the North East Strategic Health Authority.
For further information, visit NHS.UK.
Complaining about your GP
If you wish to make a complaint about the care or service provided by your GP, or by someone working at your GP surgery, you should contact the person responsible for the practice complaints procedure. Your GP will try to resolve your complaint at this stage. You can get support to help you to do this.
Alternatively, you may feel that you need to take the complaint to a more formal level by using the NHS Complaints Procedure.
You can find out more about informal and formal approaches to complaining in our section How to complain about health services.
Other useful information
Men’s Health Forum provides health advice to men. They run the Man MOT. This means you can contact a GP 24 hours a day 7 days a week.
Accessible Information Standard
If you have a sensory loss or disability you are entitled by law to accessible information about your health care and support from the NHS and publicly funded social care services. For example this could include large print or a professional BSL interpreter at medical appointments.
- Find out your information needs
- Record them in a set way
- Highlight them in your records so that staff meet your needs every time you use services
- Share your information needs with other services e.g. if you give details to your GP then these can be shared with any hospital service you maybe referred to
- Make sure you get support the way you need including when your needs vary. For example you may need to receive short letters in large print but need longer documents on audio.
- Ask on a regular basis if your needs have changed
Remember – tell services this is your right to have your needs addressed and they have to do this by law (section 250 of the Health and Social Care Act 2012)
Read more from NHS England about the Accessible Information Standard.
Other Useful Organisations
- NHS 111 is the new telephone service which has replaced NHS Direct. You can call 111 when you need medical help fast but it’s not a 999 emergency. NHS 111 is a fast and easy way to get the right help, whatever the time.
- NHS.UK is a website providing health and medicines information and you can search for local services.
Please note – The content on this website is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other health care professional. If you are feeling unwell, make an appointment to see your GP or contact NHS 111. In an emergency, dial 999.
Last updated: October 14, 2019