Although your GP does not need to be your first point of contact if you're feeling unwell, everyone should be registered with a GP. If you're not, you should approach a practice as soon as possible, even if you don't currently have any health problems.
If you're joining a new practice, ask about services that may be important, such as:
- availability of male and female GPs and nurses
- staff who speak languages other than English
- how far in advance you can book a non-urgent appointment
- extended opening hours
- support for carers
- wheelchair and other access issues
- how the appointment system works.
Practices now offer a 24-hour online service, through which you can book appointments with a GP of your choice or cancel appointments, order repeat prescriptions and view your summary care record. Speak to the receptionist to find out what online services your GP practice is offering and how to register for online access. You can find out more on the Patient Online pages on NHS Choices website.
If you have difficulty finding a practice with space for new patients, contact NHS England - it's their responsibility to find a GP practice for you.
What can my GP do for me?
Your GP can give you medical advice, treatment and prescribe medication.
GP Dr Radha Modgil says, '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. If you're hard of hearing or need some moral support, it's fine to take a friend along with you.'
Your GP can also refer you to other health professionals to diagnose or treat specific aspects of your condition. For example, they may refer you to a chiropodist, for a hearing test, or to your local falls prevention service. These other health professionals may visit you at home or hold clinics at a local practice, health centre or hospital.
What if I'm too ill to visit my GP?
If you're unable to visit your GP surgery for medical reasons, you can ask your GP to make a home visit. Your GP may be able to give you advice through a telephone consultation or will visit you at home if necessary. If possible, try to call your GP in the morning if you think you'll need a visit the same day.
What if I'm not registered with a GP or I'm away from home?
You should always be able to see a GP if you need urgent attention. If you're away from home or have not registered with a GP and fall ill, you should contact the nearest surgery and ask them to see you.
If you'll be living away from your usual address for up to three months, you can register as a temporary patient at a local practice. You'll still be able to remain registered as a patient with the GP where you normally live.
Having a named GP
Since April 2015, your GP practice must allocate everyone a named, accountable GP. This GP will oversee your care and take responsibility for evaluating your current physical and psychological needs.
This does not mean that your named GP will take on 24/7 responsibility for you, nor does it mean that the named GP is the only doctor at your practice who will or can provide care.
If you haven't been informed of this, make sure you ask your GP practice.
Supporting people with long-term conditions
Millions of people have one or more 'long-term' condition, such as diabetes, arthritis, asthma, heart disease and lung diseases. These conditions cannot be cured but can be managed with medication and other treatments.
If you have a long-term condition, your GP should help you understand and manage your own care. This may include drawing up a care plan to help you manage your condition on a day-to-day basis and recognise symptoms that you should report to your GP. It may also include creating an 'information prescription' with the help of NHS Choices which helps you find reliable sources of information about your condition.
Your GP may also be taking part in an initiative to support patients with complex conditions who experience frequent, avoidable admissions to hospital. This is estimated to be around 2% of patients on a practice list.
Under this intiative, if your GP believes that you are in this 'at risk' group they will:
- draw up a care plan to help you pro-actively manage your care
- provide you with same day telephone consultations or follow up when you have urgent enquiries or questions about your condition or care
- develop a system to allow ambulance staff, A&E doctors or care home managers to promptly discuss with the GP their intention to transfer you to hospital or admit you to a ward
- ensure that after discharge from hospital, the GP practice is notified and you are promptly seen at home and necessary changes made to your care plan
- arrange a care conference soon after discharge to identify any contributory factors that could be addressed to avoid any further unplanned admissions.