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NHS general practitioner (GP) services

GP appointments and bookings

Visits to the surgery are free, but you'll usually need to make an appointment. Before you make an appointment to see your GP, consider the alternatives. Your local pharmacist may be able to give you the help you need, so you won't have to spend time waiting for an appointment. Pharmacists are highly trained health professionals, and may offer a wider range of health services than you might think. Read about the services that pharmacists provide.

You can still phone the GP practice outside normal surgery hours, but you'll usually be directed to an out-of-hours service if there is one. Alternatively, you can call NHS 111 if you urgently need medical help or advice but it's not a life-threatening situation. You can also call NHS 111 if you're not sure which NHS service you need.

How to make a booking

Most GP practices operate independently and have their own booking routines. Your surgery should be able to offer you an appointment to see a GP or other healthcare professional quickly, if necessary. However, if it is more convenient, you should also be able to book appointments in advance. For more help, read: How quickly can I see a GP?

Familiarise yourself with your GP practice's appointment system, and try to plan in advance if you can. 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. Check with the receptionist or practice manager for more details.

Tip

If you don't feel confident using the internet, read how to become a confident internet user.

You have the legal right to ask to see a particular doctor or nurse at the GP practice. For more information, see: Can I choose to see a male or female GP?

Make the most of your appointment

GPs spend an average of 8-10 minutes with each patient. 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 if you're worried.

Be honest about what you think may be causing the problem, and don’t be embarrassed. Your doctor will have seen and heard it all before.

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

You may also find the sections on What to ask the doctor and Can I speak to a GP about someone else’s health of interest.

Making a complaint

You can rate and write comments about your GP practice on this website for others to see.

Most GP practices also have their own feedback system, and you can always ask to fill in an NHS Friends and Family Test, which allows you to comment on the service you received and whether you would recommend it to others. Ask for one at the reception of your GP practice.

If you disagree with the way your GP wants to treat your health problem – or you're unhappy about the service given 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 want to make a complaint.

All GP practices have a written complaints procedure. You will find this at reception or on the practice's website. First, 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. Read more about the NHS complaints procedure.

What is an NHS medical card?

When you register with a GP practice, you may receive an NHS medical card. This is also known as form FP4, which gives basic details such as a patient's name, address, NHS Number, registered GP practice (or the name of an individual practitioner) and details of your local NHS England regional team.

Note: NHS medical cards are not used everywhere.

Fit notes

Since July 2012, GP's can give you a computer-completed fit note, rather than a handwritten one. It will include the same information as handwritten fit notes. You will still get handwritten fit notes from hospital doctors, GPs on home visits and GPs with older IT systems. Find more information under:

Page last reviewed: 13/01/2016

Next review due: 13/01/2018

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