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 accepted you unless there are reasonable grounds to refuse you, such as living 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. Use this website and others like it to find facilities, services, details and performance of different GP surgeries 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 is produced by the Royal College of General Practitioners to help you choose - and get the most from - a GP practice. It covers everything from choosing and registering to such things as asking for a second opinion or getting involved with a practice as a patient representative.
You don't have to register with a surgery to see a GP. In some areas, you can visit GP-led health centres, some of which are open from 8am to 8pm, seven days a week. Anyone can book an appointment or simply walk in and wait to be seen. You can register at these centres if you live in the local area.
Think about the following points when considering which GP to register with:
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 or GP-led health centres in the area.
To find GPs in your area, use the NHS Choices Health 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 Health services near you to find the practice, and click on the Need to register? link. Also read about the increased choice in GP practice pilot.
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 Health services near you to find a local provider.
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.
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.
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.