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Your choices in the NHS

Choosing a GP

General practitioners (GPs) are the first point of contact for nearly all NHS patients. They can direct you to other NHS services, and are experts in family medicine, preventative care, health education and treating people with multiple and long-term conditions.

You have the right to choose a GP practice, although for most people this choice is currently limited to a practice near where they live. The GP surgery you choose must accept you unless there are reasonable grounds to refuse you, such as that you live outside the practice boundary. Normally, the practice should inform you of those reasons. Choose carefully, because a good family doctor will direct you to the best specialist care when you need it, and can help you stay healthy throughout your life.

Good relations and communication between you and your GP are essential. You should be happy with your GP on a professional and personal level, which will require thought, consideration and patience from both of you.

Researching your options can help you find the right GP. Compare GP surgeries on this website and others like it according to facilities, services or performance before you decide. Ask friends, relatives and others you trust for their thoughts and recommendations.

You can also download a copy of 'It's your practice - a patient guide to GP services' (PDF, 1.9MB) 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 reorganisation 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.

Think about the following points when considering which GP to register with: 

Location

Some people want a GP very close to their home because they plan on visiting the surgery often. Others may prefer to see a doctor close to their workplace, particularly if they work full-time. In this case, there may be alternative services, such as walk-in centres in the area.  

 

To find GPs in your area, use the NHS Choices Services near you system. Simply type in a postcode or address. All GPs in the area will be listed, with the nearest shown first. Their addresses and phone numbers are listed.

 

Consider how easy it is to get to the surgery. Is it well served by public transport? Does it offer parking? This may matter when you're ill or caring for sick children. 

 

Check whether you live within the practice's catchment area. If you don't, the practice can refuse to register you. Many practices describe their catchment area on this site. Use Services near you to find the practice, and click on the Need to register? link. Also read about increased choice in GP practices.

Opening times

For many, opening times are more important than location. Whether the GP surgery is open before or after normal working hours or at weekends are important questions for those who work full-time.

 

Each GP surgery listed in the NHS Choices database has a page that lists their opening hours. Use this information to see whether the opening times of particular practices suit you.

 

If you can’t find a GP with the right opening hours, consider using a GP-led health centre or a nurse-led NHS walk-in centre. Use the Services near you to find a local provider.  

Performance

No matter how convenient a GP surgery may seem, always check its performance before registering with it. A practice that performs poorly, for example, one that seldom answers the phone or fails to listen to patients concerns, is less likely to provide you with a good service. 

Each GP surgery listed on the NHS Choices has a set of pages where you can check how well they perform on a range of measures. Click on the Performance heading on the left-hand side when you've found the pages of the GP surgery that you're looking for. You can also add your own comments about particular GP surgeries and read what other patients think.

Personal preferences

Your personal preferences may affect whether or not you feel comfortable with your doctor. For example, many women prefer to see female doctors. Your cultural background and age may also influence your preference. Some people may be happy to see a different doctor each time they visit the surgery.

 

Before you register, ask the practice if it has a policy on matching patients with individual doctors. If the sex, age or cultural background of your doctor matters to you, ask whether the practice can accommodate this before you register.

 

Don’t generalise. Most GPs have dealt with a wide variety of people and are very good at their jobs. You might think, for instance, that young GPs will know more about newly developed treatments than older ones, but that’s a generalisation and may not be true. It's better to seek recommendations from friends and relatives.  

Changing practice

If you're not happy with the service at your existing GP surgery, you can change to another practice in the area, in most cases.

When you have selected a practice that meets your needs, you will usually need to fill out and sign a registration form and hand it to the practice. Be prepared to take along details of your previous doctor, your address and the details on your medical card, if you have one.

Comments

The 32 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

michael summer said on 18 June 2014

i moved to somerset from london , i have a pre booked
appointment for a eye annual check up can i still attend this
appointment in london which i would like to do as it motivates me to see friends in london

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manninman said on 03 June 2014

The growing practice of telephone screening (Triage team) is highly frustrating when trying to make an appointment,and adds nothing the service available. I am so frustrated with my local Surgery, i have lost confidence in them to provide a timely response were i to have a serious illness that required a Doctors attention and would now consider the local A&E the only option, but i do not think that is any better????

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Anonymous said on 15 May 2014

I have a similar experience as you Shar25 but only I don't know what the new surgery is like.

I have just been diagnosed with a serious condition and now have to move surgery just as more blood tests are being done to check my medication levels.

I feel annoyed by having to move away from a GP that I get on with to someone I don't know all because I moved fewer than 2 miles up the road!

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Shar25 said on 06 March 2014

My family had to leave our GP practice due to a house move. We have a rare condition and continuity of care is vital. Our old GP was brilliant and our only allie in care coordination. Our new practice is far from that and as with any chronic condition additional stress just makes things worse.

I agree with others who have been misdiagnosed/proper care not implemented, it is not fair. Why should some people be lucky enough to get fantastic care not just from their GP but from their local hospital and yet others have to suffer progresive ill health as they cannot get the care they need?

I will welcome the abolishment of GP boundaries so that I can go back to my old surgery.

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sallyann1964 said on 20 February 2014

My GP is retiring soon and I have once again asked that I am transferred over to a female doctor and once again have been told I would have to 'wait and see what is happening' I was told this when my last GP at this same practice retired and was automatically transferred over to a male doctor who's answer to my every ailment is to weigh me and tell me to lose weight (ok, I am 2 stone overweight but he can't or won't see beyond this) He even google's symptoms whilst you sit there and once 'diagnosed' my husband with skin cancer when after trips to specialists, it was found to be foliculitiis. Whilst I can see other GP's within the practice for minor illnesses, anything that requires thought and follow up has to be referred my the one I am registered too. Apart from moving practice, I can't see that I have any 'choice' with my current surgery! Very frustrating.

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bigi said on 09 January 2014

A year and a bit ago we moved to a neighbouring village of the city we work in the past few years. Today I was told I cannot go and see my GP with chest pain at the surgery I was registered and the one really close to work but have to reregister at the village surgery and go there instead (where there is only one GP).
I still prefer to be with my old surgery, I trust them more and their profile fits better, too. Moreover I'm flexible at work and can find a 30-60min brake to see the GP whenever I get the appointment, but I cannot afford the same flexibility to stay at home to see the local GP.
So I'm super unhappy that I was force to change everything, but now I can see how the NHS tries everything to lower the number of patients going to see their doctor in time before their conditions getting very serious...

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Jayslb said on 10 December 2013

There is no choice in many rural communities. There is only one surgery, providing "care" in our catchment area. It's disgusting. They misdiagnosed my stroke and completely ignore the provision of aftercare. Do not wish to see them again, ever. Unfortunately no other surgery will take me own due to their own catchment areas. So I am left with two choices - carry on receiving substandard medical care (no way!) or just use A&E or 111 whenever I have medical issues. Those services are not intended to be abused as a GP alternative, however, that's the only viable option for me.

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pebbl said on 12 November 2013

There's no need to remove the catchment areas entirely, they just need to be extended to logical sizes. Here in Tooting, we're not in our nearest surgery's catchment.. If the catchments are all based on ease of getting to patients for call outs, why aren't they calculated using a radius, rather than street name lists? And why do they not extend beyond a few miles -- a doctor isn't able to drive further than 10 minutes?

As it stands my partner and I have the option of three small surgeries, which might seem like a boon in terms of choice, however the first messed up the booking of appointments, were rude and refused to admit a problem -- not to mention that they are always booked up for at least two weeks; which means you'd have to have an emergency to see someone quickly. The second seems impossible to call, and they are never open when their times state they should be; We have yet to try the third but reading the reviews of all three you wouldn't want to go to any of them. I have at least called the third to ask if they are accepting new patients from my street, all I got was a "Yes" and the phone hung up.

Recently -- to avoid the above -- my partner opted to go to a walk-in centre. After a couple of hours she got a very rushed evaluation which has left her none the wiser, with an allergic skin reaction to a prescribed cream, and no idea where to go next.

Basically the surgeries we have been "allocated" all seem to be sorely lacking in funds, buildings and professional etiquette. Whereas, one tube-stop over, there are three surgeries that have far better reviews, nicer facilities and -- at least as far as I have experienced -- polite and helpful staff who are quick to answer the phone.

If the catchment areas were opened up a sensible amount, you'd end up with more choice and actual competition. Which would mean the failing, poorly managed surgeries would become immediately apparent, and we'd escape at least one postcode lottery.

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Rmonster said on 06 November 2013

I completely agree with miss_wilson.

There are no choices.

There is no point in NHS choices showing GP surgeries that are anything more than a mile away from where you live purely because of catchment areas. Staff in surgeries just simply don't care.

I'm in the same situation as miss_wilson and as I no longer trust my family GP, I have no desire to go to him or to where my parents are to see a GP.

The surgery I want to go to is 1 mile from where I live. The surgery I want to go to has good patient reviews compared to the ones slightly closer to me all which have bad reviews.

I don't know what to do as I'm now at a point I really need to go and see a GP as I need an appointment and possible referral very very soon.

Gow- Not all patients don't take responsibility for themselves, some people do. I'm sure nearly everyone commenting on here wants and does take responsibility but also in changing GP's want the best for themselves.

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Keith Straw said on 07 October 2013

Gow, with one expection, you are correct in everything you say. The error you make is in differentiating between patient and customer. We pay for this service and so we are customers. That does not preclude a lack of choice. In most of Devon, most services that are on offer lack choice, ie the only landline telephone provider is BT. That makes it incumbent on the providers to give best value for money. The NHS, as a public service, is better placed than most to do this, ie no profit-driven shareholders to pander to etc. The first step they could make towards this aim is to stop spending money on advertising "choice" when no such option is available. If I do not go to the only Health Centre in my town, I do not get a doctor. Do I have the option of not paying my National Insurance - No. That is not choice. In short, stop spending my tax money paying for web sites and glossy pamphlets that spout lies.

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Gow said on 13 September 2013

For all the people saying get rid of catchment areas please lets us know then how you would deal with someone that wanted a home visit? You never know when someone will require a home visit and saying keep someone on till they require one won't work. You would then have to register with another practice when you require a visit and are now potentially housebound which is beyond ridiculous. Not only that but you are now seeing someone you don't recognise or have trust in and has no background knowledge about you when you are at your most vulnerable.

The spurious comments are really annoying - Chris you aren't a customer you are a patient, the reason you are being asked to move on is as stated above. You have already requested one visit the fact that it was refused is irrelevant as it would have been triaged. There is no mention of negligence and you want to stay with this GP so it sounds like the refusal was correct.

aUkGP - "So for a practice you get paid better if you avoid patients that come often. You also get paid better if you make it so unpleasant that patients do not come so often. And you get paid better if you do consultations as quickly as possible." - I hope everybody knows how ridiculous this comment is...............GP's get paid via various methods one of which is QOF, guidelines based on good practice to ensure those on disease registers are seen appropriately i.e. see these people, treat them appropriately or don't get paid.

The no catchment area idea was piloted and scrapped because of the lack of interest and uptake from patients. This is not the answer. Choice is part of several deep routed issues within the NHS based on lack of GP's, difficulty of setting up practice, overwhelming patient entitlement, lack of patient responsibility for their own health, poorly advertised services amongst other things.

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Chris Spencer said on 10 September 2013

I have just tried to stay with the surgery we have used for the past 23 years, having now moved a few miles away.
Based on the ease with which one can always get an appointment, I would suggest that their list is far from full.
However, the doctor was not interested in retaining us because we were outside his catchment area. He cited the possible need for home visits and yet the one and only time we requested one, it was refused.
In the business world this would be called a cartel and would not be permitted. (I won't steal your customers and you won't steal mine.)
We are now left with the "choice" of registering with a practise that we know is unable to provide prompt appointments.
It saddens me to have to report this as I sit on the Board of an NHS hospital, but we should not insult people by telling them they have a choice when they clearly don't.
Get rid of catchment areas and give people real choice. It would not be impossible to say that the price of selecting a doctor outside your catchment area was to agree no home visits. Then people can decide if the trade-off is worthwhile.

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miss_wilson said on 21 August 2013

what a load of rubbish..
there are no choices at all!!
im not happy at my current GP which im registered to at my parents address as the GPs in my area have bad reviews.
i wanted to go to a GP within a 2 mile radius and they tell me i am out the catchment area - so this leaves me with 2 GP's with bad reviews.. great start!
also the information about the walk in centres.. not true. i went to a walk in centre once as i came out in a rash all over and i was told i shouldnt be there unless i would go to a&e about it. as it was a service out of hours rather than going to a&e - im glad the NHS service i pay for is so helpful!!
they need to hurry up and bring the law in that i can choose with GP i go to, as in that case if GP werent busy due to poor service, then they may step up their game!!

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User792128 said on 31 July 2013

I agree that there is no NHS choice for GPs - especially in my case - I and my family of 5 are being removed from the surgery we have been using for over 20 years as they are struggling to satisfy appointment requests and we are 200 meters outside their boundary!
Having trawled around the 7 nearest to us (of which they are the 3rd closest) we are only inside the boundary of 1 practice which we do not want to move to as it has a very poor reputation.
This is a postcode lottery and madness, especially as we are closer to our current practice than over 70% of the rest of their patients!!

Exasperating to say the least :-(

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limeCut said on 30 July 2013

Catchment areas = Joke!

There is no choice whatsoever.

"find the surgery you feel most happy with"

Its such a waste of time.. If you are so unlucky as to live in a catchment area of only bad surgeries with bad feedback. There is no option but to use it.

Is there any wonder why people get private healthcare???

There is no choice until the NHS gets rid of the Catchment area issue.

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Chris1946 said on 11 March 2013

We have just tried to change our doctor and because we are outside the catchment area of all available doctors, the nearest of which is only .98 miles from us, we cannot move.

This catchment area limitation makes nonsense of NHS choices.

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HelgaCabbage said on 21 February 2013

I have a similar problem to many on here.

I have had many GPs that I have not felt comfortable with, or have struggled to understand their accents when they ask me questions, or who I felt did not listen to me... then 8 years ago I found a GP I have been very happy with, and recommend to everyone.
But now I've moved house and am considered out of catchment area, even though I am very willing to drive to the surgery, which is only a few miles away, so that I can keep the doctor I have had for the last 8 years, who I trust and respect and feel comfortable with.
Instead of registering with a new GP at the surgery they tell me I now have to use, I am no longer registered with anyone. I was awaiting test results, but when they I tried to change my address for them to be posted to me, they instead sent me a letter saying I would now have to lose my doctor.

I am so depressed by this. If I was telephoning for my GP to come out to me, I could understand the catchment area thing, but since I am driving to the surgery not the other way around, why can't I choose who I wish to be registered with and who performs intimate examinations on me?

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nataliegreen2 said on 15 April 2012

True or faulse catchment areas do not exist
I have phoned Barnet PCT GP registration department on Friday and the management confirmed that catchment areas do not exist. Can someone confirm that this is true, as when I phoned the clinics which they gave me as possible places, they told me as you would expect since you are not in the vacinity you are out of the catchment area and we have never taken anyone which is out of the catchment area. So just wondering?

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Amsterdam said on 16 March 2012

NHS GPs have no reason to provide decent service: contrary to the misleading info on this website - Primary Care Trusts do NOT investigate complaints - they just spend our money on sub par services without ensuring we get value for money. If you complain to them they just refer your complaint back to the GP- what a farce!

My GP did not know that a ferritin level of 70 was required to stimulate hair growth and i've suffered from hair loss for years: i had to tell him this info and ask to be prescribed ferrous sulphate!

The simplest things are hard work in this country, which about 100 years behind Africa in medical terms. You cannot get VIT B12 shots on the NHS: i need these due to an absorption problem identified by a private GP (NHS just couldn't figure it out), but i can't afford to go private.

In South Africa, you get get a Vit B12 shot at any pharmacy without prescription. The ampules (£1.50 each!) and syringes are available over the counter, so I'm travelling out there to buy a year's stock-otherwise i have to pay a private consult fee of £120 + £20 for the shot every month in UK. I need these injections as, combined with other health conditions, not getting them causes me serious health issues.

This country is a joke! I resent being taxed to the hilt and not even getting the most basic of care in return. Wonder whether anyone from the NHS actually reads these comments.......

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AlaricAdair said on 24 November 2011

The information on NHS Walk-In Centres needs some amendment as many of the original Walk-In Centres have been closed and/or nurses transferred to GP Practices with the accordingly revised hours.

The are no published statistics on whether people, who have actually used a WIC, would prefer a visit to a GP or to a WIC. It should be noted there are some unsupported and biased suppositions propagated by GPs that GPs attendance is preferred.

People should make their own mind up while they still have the opportunity.

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Noemie said on 10 November 2011

I live in Edgeley and wanted to change GP practice as I'm not happy with mine. this webpage tells us that we can check for most practice 1. if they accept new patients and 2. what their catchment area is.
Most of them do accept patients, but the info about catchment area is not online which means that you have to contact each practice by phone! and guess what the answer is?! No of course!!!
I am a French national and so was looking to go to Heaton Mersey practice but I'm not SK4. I found this very unfair. And I am very disappointed. It seems like discrimination to me. I have a car and driving for a mile or two does not bother me. if it means I can get the service I need.

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Ipsa said on 18 October 2011

NHS No-Choice!

My GP has decided to only see patients in the mornings (with no notice given to the tax-payer customers), as I work 2hrs from where I live this is about as useful as a chocolate teapot. I will not see one of the other GPs at the practice as they are male and I insist on seeing a female doctor ... as is my right.

I wanted to move to another surgery, which has better facilities and more appropriate opening times (for me), and two female GPs, however, although they are only 3mile away, I am out of their catchment area. Even an appeal to the practice manager did no good.

I have gone through the complaints system, which again, was next to useless - all completely missed the point about my wishing to see a female doctor!

When are the reforms being passed which will eliminate the catchment area fiasco?

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Pepperman said on 12 October 2011

Sorry NHS Choices, but your site is seriously misleading on choice. When I searched for a GP your site listed 50 Gp practices within 5 miles of my home. In practice 95% of them were a waste of space because I am only within the catchment area of 3 of them. I only found this out after I had wasted my time comparing practices and choosing the one that I thought would be best for me - only to find that they wouldn't take me because I was outside of their catchment area.

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aUKGP said on 31 August 2011

"Choose carefully, because a good family doctor will direct you to the best specialist care when you need it "

Codswallop: a bad GP has just as much access to specialist care as a good one.

Why does the NHS have contracts with bad GPs? Like the "one that seldom answers the phone" and then tell you on this page to avoid them somehow? it does not make sense if they are so bad stop using them.

Now supposing this site can really help you find the best GP, who would want to be registered with anyone else? so the best GP should have 60 million patients? And if this site can really help you find the best GP why not list GPs in the order of quality instead of "the nearest shown first"?

"Some people may be happy to see a different doctor each time "

Double codswallop - most people would like to see the same (the best) doctor all the time and not a different nurse in a walk in centre. The local walk in centre is only interested in seeing patients that are eligible to register, all others are referred back to their own (substandard if we believe this site) GP with the absolute minimum they can get away with.

Catchment areas are there because a GP is obliged to do home visits (something you do not get from walk in centres) in the catchment area. However some practices have used this to exclude undesirable areas. Unlike walk in centres that get paid for each consultation GPs get a fixed fee per year (about £65 on average) no matter how often you come and nothing extra for home visits.

So for a practice you get paid better if you avoid patients that come often. You also get paid better if you make it so unpleasant that patients do not come so often. And you get paid better if you do consultations as quickly as possible. Why woud the NHS have such a payment system if the NHS really wanted to get patients the best care?

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nhshellraiser said on 09 July 2011

Why do I have to ask around when choosing a GP practice? Also, patients choose a doctor for a good service they are not looking for a friend.

Every NHS GP practice should be required by law now to be open and give full details on their website, of all the services they provide and details on all of their employed staff, including full qualifications with photos.

I have seen one such excellent online website but it is a Scottish GP practice only. All UK patients should be able to read about all the staff who would be treating them before making a choice. It would also help to reassure patients and to build trust/confidence in a healthcare system where standards have fallen.

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FSade27 said on 26 August 2010

If I an not satisfied with my GP's diagnosis how do I get a second opinion?

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Jeee said on 12 August 2010

Re: Catchment areas.

When I went to "NHS Your health, your choices" page, I find that the GPs I want to register with, won`t take me?. Out off the closest to me I find I am out off their "catchment area". How can this be???.

"Choices", you don`t really get a choice. It will all change when the NHS goes private. You will have planty of "Choices" then and NO "catchment areas", well you wouldn`t would you with doctors getting £200.00 (off you) just to come to your house, it will all change then.

I am disabled and have a life-threatening condition, I need to take medicines prescribed by a GP and I don`t have a doctor?. I can`t get registered with one to suit my needs?. How can this be???. I run out of my medicine yesterday.

Such is life, good job I have given up on it or I would feel depressed.

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danielbb said on 08 July 2010

I cant see any official performance figures or inspections. So how are we supposed to make an informed decision. I hate the way the NHS is run. I was told by my GP that you cant be refered to a specialest unless the doctor knows what the condition is you likely have, so you have to rely on a GP knowing EVER condition.

Why not have a system where you are first refered to an intermedary doctor that specialises in the area. Instead my doctors say ' I dont know, have some prozac'

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Sabbry said on 28 May 2010

My GP is not in my catchment area anymore (it was in my old address), but I do want to stay registered there (it's still fairly close and on my way to work). Do I have to change it? How can I keep it? I feel I should stay with a Doctor I trust and I don't think it's fair for them to force me to leave that practise.

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disappointed with the service said on 29 March 2010

It seems billybump had a similar problem to mine. That is my exact response. You are given all this sweet talk about 'choices' but you either stay with a GP surgery that you are unhappy with or just don't go to a doctor even if you are dying. So what kind of 'choice' is that? When I first went to the surgery where I live I was perfectly well. But now I feel they are making me ill and then wanting to cure me. What a great choice!

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Manu_london said on 09 January 2010

ahh, but you still have the choice - you can take the existing GP surgery service or leave it !

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billybump said on 22 November 2009

This site states that if you are not happy with the service at your existing GP surgery you can change to another practice in the area. What if there is no other practice in the area and all other practices in areas in close proximity refuse to take on someone out of area? Thats when there is no help, not even PALS so a person is left alone without medical support. This site could perhaps be a bit more honest in its information. The NHS is supposed to be changing but its too little too slowly.

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Page last reviewed: 06/02/2014

Next review due: 06/02/2016

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