GPs look after the health of people in their local community and deal with a whole range of health problems. They also provide health education, offer advice on smoking and diet, run clinics, give vaccinations and carry out simple surgical operations.
GPs usually work in practices as part of a team, which 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. You would normally see GPs or other healthcare professionals at their premises (surgery). Some operate from more than one building. If your GP cannot deal with a problem then you’ll usually be referred to a hospital for tests, treatment, or to see a consultant with specialist knowledge.
GP practices should make information about their services easily available to their patients. Most practices have a practice leaflet available, please ask for one. Practices also display information about their services and members of staff on NHS Choices. Use the "Services near you" facility to look up a GP practice.
Finding the right GP practice
You can register with a GP practice of your choice, as long as you live within its catchment area and it is accepting new patients. Visits to the surgery are free.
Researching your options can help you find the right GP practice. Read the section about choosing a GP practice for tips and advice, or compare local GP practices according to facilities, services, access and performance before you decide. Ask friends, relatives and others you trust for their thoughts and recommendations.
Since January 2015, some GP practices in England are accepting registrations from patients who live outside of their traditional catchment areas. This is referred to as "out of area registration". It means that you are able to register with practices in more convenient locations, such as a practice near your work or closer to your children’s schools. Find out more about patient choice of GP practices.
You can also download a copy of It's Your Practice: A patient guide to GP services (PDF, 1.92Mb), which was produced by the Royal College of General Practitioners to help you choose – and get the most from – a GP practice. It was produced before the 2013 NHS re-organisation and so refers to some organisations and procedures that no longer exist. But it still contains a great deal of helpful information about GP practices themselves.
If you are having problems registering with a nearby doctor then please contact your local NHS England Area Team.
How to register with a GP practice
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 (PDF, 107kb) is available in the practice, or you can download it from this site.
Forms may vary slightly and some practices use their own version.
When you have completed and returned the form, your local NHS England Area Team will transfer your medical records to your new practice and write to you to confirm your registration as a patient with that practice.
Parents or guardians can register a baby at a practice by completing and presenting form FP58 (PDF, 34kb), which is issued at the same time as a birth certificate.
A practice cannot refuse you unless it has reasonable grounds for doing so. These must not relate to race, gender, social class, age, religion, sexual orientation, appearance, disability or a medical condition. It must also give you reasons for its decision in writing. However, you may be refused if you are living outside the practice’s catchment area or the practice is generally not accepting new patients at the time because its list is closed. Find out if your local GP practice is currently accepting new patients.
You can register with a GP practice as a temporary resident under certain circumstances – when you are in an area for more than 24 hours but less than three months. See information below "What if I am ill while I'm away from home?".
Booking an appointment
There are no set rules for this. However, your practice should be able to offer you an appointment to see a GP or other healthcare professional quickly if necessary. You can normally see any doctor within your practice. This is quite normal, especially if you need an appointment quickly. However, if it is more convenient, you should also be able to book appointments in advance. It is important to keep your appointment, or notify the practice if you have to cancel or change it. Read the section about GP appointments for more detailed advice.
Many GPs now offer online services which allow you to book/cancel your appointment or order a repeat prescription. If you don't feel as confident using the internet, try the 'Learn to use GP online services' course first or read our guide on how to become a confident internet user.
You can also visit an NHS walk-in centre (WIC) or minor injuries unit (MIU). These can provide treatment for minor injuries or illnesses such as cuts, bruises and rashes. However, they are not designed for treating long-term conditions or immediately life-threatening problems. You don't need to be registered and you don't need an appointment. Any member of the public can simply walk in to be seen regardless of where they are registered. Some offer pre-booked appointments.
How to complain
If you disagree with the way your GP wants to treat your health problem – or you're unhappy about the service provided by your GP practice – tell them openly. However, if you feel unable to do so or you're unhappy with the response you receive, you may wish to make a complaint.
All GP practices have a written complaints procedure. You will find this at the reception or on the practice website. As a first step, speak to the practice manager. You can also complain to the practice in writing or by email. If this doesn't resolve the problem, you can take your complaint to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman.