Do you really need to see your doctor?

A doctor taking blood pressure

It can often be tricky to get an appointment with your GP at a time suitable for you, and sometimes we worry about wasting their time with our ‘trivial’ health niggles.

But many of us don’t realise that there are other health professionals who can help. Your local pharmacist and practice nurse or nurse practitioner all play a vital role in helping you to look after your health, and it’s usually quick and easy to arrange a consultation.

So if you’re suffering from a tummy bug or a sore throat, or perhaps need help managing a chronic condition, you might find that there’s no need to wait to see your doctor after all.

PharmacistHow your pharmacist can help

If you have any queries about prescribed medicines and their side-effects, have a minor health problem or simply want to get your blood pressure or cholesterol checked, it’s worth popping into your local chemist and asking to see the pharmacist.

'Pharmacists are the medicine professionals on the high street, so we should be your first port of call for any medicine-related problems or queries,' says Raj Patel, MPharms, and board member of the National Pharmacy Association.

'We can also help with minor conditions such as coughs and colds, fungal injections or constipation.'

Minor ailments

A number of pharmacies across the UK offer an NHS Minor Ailment Service, which means if you don’t have to pay for prescriptions, your pharmacist can provide medicines free of charge. Check if yours runs this beforehand, as it varies according to local care trust.

In fact, your local pharmacist should be able to advise on the following:

  • aches and pains
  • allergies
  • common drugs
  • eye infections
  • stomach conditions
  • skin conditions
  • women's health issues

Many pharmacies will also give flu jabs to those who aren't entitled to a free jab, and can offer support if you’re trying to stop smoking or lose weight.

Many pharmacies also have private consultation rooms, so you don’t have to worry about being overheard. And if the pharmacist can’t help, they will recommend you contact your GP anyway.

'A consultation at your local pharmacy is quick and convenient,' says Raj. 'You don’t need to make an appointment and it won’t cost you a penny. Most people can manage to get to their local chemist, but if you can’t leave the house then your pharmacist will be happy to talk to you over the phone.'

Many local pharmacies can also arrange for your medicines to be delivered to your home, if you have difficulty picking up a repeat prescription.

Nurse looking at her watchHow nurses can help

Your GP will encourage you to see the practice nurse if you have chronic conditions such as asthma, diabetes or high blood pressure, or if you need jabs or dressings changed.

In addition, nurses usually take care of routine tests such as blood pressure checks, blood tests and smear tests.

'The main role of a practice nurse is to check and maintain your health,' says Registered Nurse Kathleen McGrath.

'Call your surgery to make an appointment - for routine matters, there’s every chance that you’ll find it quicker and easier to see your nurse than your doctor.'

Many practices also employ nurse practitioners – these are nurses who completed extra training that enables them to diagnose and treat certain types of medication – another option to avoid seeing your GP.

DoctorWhen to see your GP

'There are some ‘red flag’ symptoms that should never be ignored,' says GP Dr Radha Modgil.

If you’re experiencing any of the following, it's important to make an appointment to see your doctor:

  • unexplained weight loss
  • lumps or masses
  • a persistent cough
  • blood in urine or bowel movement
  • headaches
  • memory problems/confusion
  • if you're feeling depressed or finding it hard to cope at home.

'Get the best out of your GP by writing a list of concerns before you go and ask for a longer appointment if you have several problems to discuss,' says Dr Modgil. 'If you’re hard of hearing or need some moral support, it’s fine to take a friend along with you.

Dr Modgil also adds: 'If you’re not well enough to make it to the surgery, don’t feel embarrassed about asking for a home visit.' Unfortunately, you can't insist that a GP visits you at home – they will decide, based on your specific condition and the need for urgency.

NHS 111 / NHS Walk-in centres

If you’re not sure whether you need to see your doctor, it’s worth calling NHS 111 on 111 and explaining your symptoms or concerns to one of their advisers, who can tell you what is the most appropriate action to take. They can also direct you to local services, or connect you to the ambulance service.

'NHS 111 is a good resource, because it directs parents to the right place to go to get the help they need,' says Dr Modgil. 'However, it’s no substitute for seeing your GP. Often it’s when you ignore symptoms that they end up being significant. Doctors want to catch things early so, if you’re at all worried, see your doctor.'

Some towns and cities in England also have NHS Walk-in centres, which offer treatment for minor injuries and illnesses and are run by NHS nurses. There's no need to make an appointment.

Call 111 to find out if there's a walk-in centre near you.


Words: Ceri Roberts

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