When moving to a new city there is so much to organise that it is easy to put off the extra admin of registering with a new doctor, but it's a good idea to get this done sooner rather than later. (Confession, after 3 years of putting it off and A LOT of nagging from my family, I have finally resigstered with my local GP, but you are more likely to be more on the ball than me!)
If this is the first time you have moved to a new area, or you recently moved to the UK, you may not have registered with a doctor before or know where to start. It's very easy and there is no excuse why I took so long to register, so here is a really easy guide to help you.
In the UK the vast majority of people access doctors and other health services through the NHS which was created in 1948 based on the principle that "good healthcare should be available for all, regardless of wealth." There are also options for private health care if you choose and you may receive private health insurance from your employer or you can pay for it privately. Many private doctors also work for the NHS, so you are likely to receive the same standard of care regardless of what you choose.
If you have an emergency it is best to either go straight to A&E (the emergency department at your nearest hospital) or call 999. If you need to see a doctor urgently but it's not life threatening, you can call NHS24 on 111 who will get you the help you need.
What is a GP?
Generally when you need medical help your first port of call is your family doctor, aka your General Practitioner or GP. GPs deal with a whole range of health problems. They also provide health education, offer advice on smoking and diet, have various clinics, give vaccinations, provide birth control and carry out simple surgical operations.
GPs usually work in practices or health centres as part of a team that includes nurses, healthcare assistants, practice managers, receptionists and other staff. Practices also work closely with other healthcare professionals, such as health visitors, midwives, mental health services and social care services.
Choosing a GP
Yes that's right, you have the legal right to choose a GP practice that best suits your needs and if you are not happy with your GP practice you can choose to go to a different one if there is space. Although in some areas you might only be able to get accepted as a new patient if you are within the practice catchment area, check yours here. If you have a choice in your area try comparing GP practices according to facilities, services, access and performance before you decide. Ask friends and locals about their experiences and for recommendations.
You may want to choose a practice nearer your home, work or university, depending on which is most convenient for you to get to appointments more easily as opening hours are usually between 9am and 6pm, but some are now offering evening appointments. Availability and waiting times for appointments can vary depending on your location ranging from within hours or a few of weeks. The average is currently 13 days, so it's best to book an appointment as soon as possible. The more rural you are, the more likely you are to get an appointment more quickly. To find out where your nearest surgery is: www.nhs24.com/findlocal
Most GP practices are very busy and have many doctors, so it may be unlikely that you would see the same doctor on every visit. You may be able to request seeing a particular doctor when you make an appointment, but be warned this might mean waiting longer for your appointment. It is also worth noting that you will need to ask for a double appointment or book separate appointments if you want to discuss more than one issue, because the time allocated for an appointment with a GP is only around 8-10 minutes.
How to register with a GP
When you have found a practice you like, you'll have to formally register with it as an NHS patient by submitting a registration form to them. The GMS1 form is available in the practice, or you can download it here. Forms may vary slightly and some practices use their own version.
You do not have to pay to register with a GP. Once you have registered, there is no charge to see your GP. If you are prescribed any medication, then these may incur a cost, in England these are currently £8.80 per item with some exceptions. In Wales and Scotland prescribed medication is free.
Documents you need to bring
Along with your registration form, you will have to bring one of the following documents to register with a GP:
ID or passport
Proof of address
If you are a student, you will also need a letter from your University, confirming that you are a student
Immigration documents if you are an international citizen
If you are not confident with English or need additional help filling out the registration form, you can ask the receptionist to book an interpreter who can help you with this. Additionally, there are local organisations that offer support to asylum seekers, refugees and migrants who need assistance with filling out such forms.
Can I use the NHS if I'm not from the UK?
If you are an overseas visitor to the UK you may be charged for some treatments and, depending on how urgent it is, you will usually have to pay in advance. Treatment in A&E departments, at GP surgeries and any treatment given under the Mental Health Act remains free for all. However, the NHS will let foreign visitors know up front if care is chargeable before treatment begins, and GPs will check the status of patients.
Only non-EEA (European Economic Area) nationals who have ‘indefinite leave to remain’ status are entitled to free secondary care (the treatment you get after being referred by your GP to a specialist).
EEA citizens and students will not be removed from the UK or refused entry solely because they do not have comprehensive sickness insurance (CSI), however please be aware that it is a requirement for EEA citizens, students and their family members to have CSI.
If you are from the EU and want to use the National Health Service (NHS) you will need one of the following as evidence of CSI:
European Health Insurance Card (if the stay is not intended to be permanent i.e. for study purposes, business travel etc), issued by country of residence;
Private medical insurance (which is comprehensive);
It is advisable that EEA citizens apply for a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) issued from their country of origin prior to coming to the UK to cover them for their stay. This card should be free of charge. It is also recommended to take out comprehensive private medical insurance to have cover for all eventualities.
How to book an appointment
Once registered you may be invited to come of a general health check up, normally carried out by the practice nurse, where you will be measured, weighed, blood pressure taken etc so they have a better idea of what your current health is like.
You can visit your GP for free but you are unlikely to be seen if you just show up, so you will need to make an appointment. As mentioned earlier the waiting times for an appointment can vary, so if it is something relatively minor then it might be worth popping into your local pharmacy to speak with the pharmacist who are highly trained and could help you quicker and it's still free (apart from any medicines you choose to buy). Boots and Lloyds Pharmacy's are the most common pharmacies in the UK.
For routine appointments, you may be able to book online. Many GPs now offer online services, which allow you to book/cancel your appointment or order a repeat prescription. Some surgeries are also introducing new ways to consult a GP or other healthcare professional, including online or over the phone. Check with the receptionist or practice manager for more details.
You have a legal right to be able to choose a male or female doctor or nurse for your appointment, however this might affect your waiting time for an appointment slightly, but you will be given the choice.
Get the most out of your appointment
As your appointment is only 8-10 minutes long you need to make the most of that time. Once you've got an appointment, plan ahead to make sure you cover everything you want to discuss.
Before you see the GP, write a list of problems, starting with the most important. List your symptoms, so you don’t forget them. Write down when they started and what makes them better or worse during a 24-hour period. If you have a complicated problem, ask for a longer appointment when you book.
You can bring a friend or relative into the room if you want to.
Be clear about what you want the GP to do, such as refer you to a specialist or prescribe a different medication. Be assertive if you need to, but always be polite. For more information, read about the specialist referrals and services your GP may recommend. Ask the GP to repeat and explain anything you don’t understand. If there are words you don’t understand, ask what they mean or get the doctor to write them down, so you can look them up later.
If you and your GP decide you need to be referred for specialist tests or treatment, you usually have a right to choose which hospital and/or consultant led-team you go to.
From speaking to my American friends, in the UK we generally do a lot less tests, have less medication prescribed and see specialists far less than what you may be used to. For other countries it may be more. This is nothing to be concerned about as in the UK you tend to get the tests and given the medicines that are actually needed. If you are concerned, do ask your doctor who will be happy to discuss the reasons with you and put your mind at ease. From my personal experience your relationship with your doctor is more of a partnership to help you stay in good health. You need to take some responsibility and ask for what you need and if something isn't working you need to go back to your GP and ask for alternatives.
Hopefully you won't need to visit the GP too much, but's it's good to know they are there for you.