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Your choices in the NHS

GP appointments

When patients see their doctor is the subject of most NHS complaints. Some knowledge and forward planning can ensure that you see the doctor at your convenience. 

Don’t forget your local pharmacy

Before you make an appointment to see your GP, consider the alternatives. The pharmacist behind the counter at your local chemist 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. Pharmacists can help with:

Many pharmacies offer a Medicines Use Review (MUR). This is a detailed review of the medicines that you take. It’s especially useful for people who take a number of medicines, and leads to better alternatives being prescribed. Ask your pharmacist for more details. 

Getting a GP appointment

If you want to see a doctor, you'll usually need to make an appointment. Most GP surgeries 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.

Familiarise yourself with your GP surgery’s appointment system, and try to plan in advance if you can. For routine appointments you may be able to book online, so check on the practice website or with the receptionist.  

Be polite to receptionists. They are busy people who often have to deal with unhappy patients. Being polite to them will encourage them to help you.  

 

If the practice is really poor (for example, if they never answer the phone) complain formally. You can also to rate and write comments about your GP surgery on this website for others to see.  

Make the most of your appointment

Doctors spend an average of eight-10 minutes with each patient. Once you've got an appointment, plan ahead to make sure that you cover everything you want to discuss.

  • Before you see the doctor, write a list of problems, starting with the most important. List your symptoms so that 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.
  • When you see the doctor, bring a friend or relative if you're worried. Research shows that we forget half of what we're told by the doctor when we're stressed, so having a friend with you can help.
  • 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 doctor to do, such as refer you to a specialist or prescribe a different medication. Be assertive if you need to, but always be polite.  
  • Ask the doctor 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 that 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 you go to. You can read more about this on our page about Your rights to choice.  


If you're not offered a choice of hospital, talk to your GP first. If you're still not offered a choice, contact your NHS England Area Team. (PALS).   

Checklist of questions to ask your doctor at your appointment 

Tests, such as blood tests or scans

  • What are the tests for?
  • How and when will I get the results?
  • Who do I contact if I don’t get the results?

Treatment

  • Are there other ways to treat my condition?
  • What do you recommend?
  • Are there any side effects or risks?
  • How long will I need treatment for?
  • How will I know if the treatment is working?
  • How effective is this treatment?
  • What will happen if I don’t have any treatment?
  • Is there anything I should stop or avoid doing?
  • Is there anything I can do to help myself?

What next 

  • What happens next?
  • Do I need to come back and see you?
  • Who do I contact if things get worse?
  • Do you have any written information?
  • Where can I go for more information?
  • Is there a support group or any other source of help? 

Download or print the questions now and prepare for your doctor's appointment. 

Out-of-hours services

GP services are available 24 hours a day. Outside normal surgery hours you can still phone the GP surgery, but you'll usually be directed to an out-of-hours service if there is one. Alternatively, you can call NHS 111 (24 hours a day, seven days a week) for medical advice over the telephone.

Comments

The 9 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

Mogib said on 14 March 2014

My husband has recently been diagnosed with heart failure, he is being looked after by the hospital and the community heart team and the care has been great. However he is not able to return to work and so required a sick note. I phoned the doctor to try to make an appointment to see the doctor only to be told that they don't open the books until Monday this was Wednesday and so he would have to phone up on Monday morning. Is this usual practice? According to the practice manager I can make an appointment on a Monday for the following Friday but I can not make an appointment on a Friday for the Monday! Is it me or is this a ridiculous practice!

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Broadsword said on 25 January 2014

My 4-month old child has had to have an appointment booked for TEN days' time. I'm pretty disgusted about that. I feel ashamed to look him in his irritated red eyes and I feel guilty when he smiles at me in all his innocence. Now I have to run the gauntlet of the ridiculous 08:30 "lucky dip" daily call lottery and beg for a lucky same-day appointment every day until then - what is happening to our NHS?!

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PGHD said on 30 December 2013

I am currently living in the USA with a "platinum" plan luckily through my wifes employment otherwise it would be $2,000 per month. I cannot get to see a GP for over 2 weeks. I can get a Physician's Assistant next week - nothing sooner.

Don't complain so much about the NHS it is way better than anything here - unless you have pots of money!

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Craig59 said on 23 September 2013

Absolutely disgusted at standard of GP care in Sunderland, in particular Southwick Medical Centre. This practice is clearly in crisis with too many paients and apparently too few GPs. It is impossible to get appointments. Having had bloodwork and an ultrasound, I had to phone practice as I had heard nothing ater 2 x weeks to be told to phone back and make a 'routine' appointment the following week to discuss my blood work with the GP and that my ultrasound results appeared to be missing! One can only assume that the findings are not serious as now 3 x weeks down the line and I am still unable to get an appointment. There is no consistency, follow up or care towards patients, just a detached, 'cattle market' approach. The website is basic to say the least.
Surely worthy of investigation due to lack of policy or procedures or protocals?

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Ruwari said on 19 February 2013

I had a cateract op 2 weeks ago. I was meant to see consultant 2 weeks after op for check up. I was notified that he had gone on holiday My appointment is now 27th Feb. So I thought I'd ring and make an appointment with my Dr to see if I need more drops and check that all is OK. First app 3 weeks time!Ok any Dr....not until the end of the week! Me.....Hello I have just had an op on my eye consultant can't do check up as stated in two week as on holiday! Can't see my Dr for 3 weeks!
No apps till end of week. Receptionist ring back in morning and we will try and fit you in! Choice of three different Drs!Going in half an hour. Asked why I couldnt see my Dr for 3 weeks and had to phone this morning. Others can make appointmets! Can someone tell me if I am going mad???? Nothing makes sense. Oh.. and to cap it all. At 8.10am I rang....... answer phone surgery closed till 8.30am! Rang by chance at 8.25am. They are open at 8.00am! Suggested they changed answer phone!

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give me strength said on 13 November 2012

I hope someone can advise me. I had an appointment to see a GP about 5 weeks ago, he recommended blood tests which I had about 3 weeks ago. I have been given the results by the receptionist who said there is a GP comment to have a follow up appointment with the requesting Dr. Just by luck I originally saw the most popular GP in the practice (or bad luck!) now I can not get a follow up appointment with the same GP. I can have an appointment with someone else, but I feel that I would like continuity. I was told last week to phone on Monday this week to see if his appointments had been released, they had not when I called mid-morning I was told to call back Tuesday afternoon or Wednesday morning. I called just after 12pm on Tuesday to find that all of the appointments had gone on Monday afternoon. The receptionists are clearly sick to death of people being annoyed given their overly defensive and unpleasant manner I suppose they are working with one arm tied behind their back. However, my sympathy for them only goes so far, I now need to try my luck next Monday or maybe Tuesday or possibly Wednesday for an appointment the following week. Am I being unreasonable wanting a follow up with the same GP? Should I just give up and see someone else? I am very afraid of just falling through the cracks if I see some one else, what if I don't explain myself as well to the next GP? Is there any one who can help me navigate this ridiculous system and be successful in getting an appointment?

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Superbuggg said on 22 March 2012

I've been registered with the same GP practice for thirteen years. The receptionists seem to have been trained to respond to a request for an appointment with the standard 'the soonest we've got is such and such a date...' - usually about 7 or 8 in the future. I have seen a different doctor virtually every visit in these thirteen years, so I specifically asked to see the GP I'm registered with. Strangely, an appoint was available in just two days with this senior group practice GP. Hmnnnnn...

Isn't that exactly the same scam - making appointments appear difficult to get so the PCT pays out! The canny comment above says such scams ended a few years ago - I'm not so sure they did in England!

Additionally, I'd attended the clinic for needless blood tests - just confirmation of my low cholesterol levels before contemplating minor eye-lid xanthelasma surgery. And surprise, surprise - I've been asked back to repeat the blood test as the GP claimed 'one of the bottles was not labeled'. Such incompetence seems unlikely, AND I personally saw the nurse label the bottles! I'm sure it was just another scam for GP's to eek out extra bonuses from the PCT and NHS!

The GP also refused to entertain any inquiry from me about the difference between high density cholesterol and low density cholesterol, seemingly rumbled by my question and instead nervously fudging the conversation to distract with mention of triglycerides.

Null points North London GP

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Superbuggg said on 22 March 2012

I've been registered with the same GP practice for thirteen years. The receptionists seem to have been trained to respond to a request for an appointment with the standard 'the soonest we've got is such and such a date...' - usually about 7 or 8 in the future. I have seen a different doctor virtually every visit in these thirteen years, so I specifically asked to see the GP I'm registered with. Strangely, an appoint was available in just two days with this senior group practice GP. Hmnnnnn...

Isn't that exactly the same scam - making appointments appear difficult to get so the PCT pays out! The canny comment above says such scams ended a few years ago - I'm not so sure they did in England!

Additionally, I'd attended the clinic for needless blood tests - just confirmation of my low cholesterol levels before contemplating minor eye-lid xanthelasma surgery. And surprise, surprise - I've been asked back to repeat the blood test as the GP claimed 'one of the bottles was not labeled'. Such incompetence seems unlikely, AND I personally saw the nurse label the bottles! I'm sure it was just another scam for GP's to eek out extra bonuses from the PCT and NHS!

The GP also refused to entertain any inquiry from me about the difference between high density cholesterol and low density cholesterol, seemingly rumbled by my question and instead nervously fudging the conversation to distract with mention of triglycerides.

Null points North London GP

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aUKGP said on 31 August 2011

"You'll normally be seen within two working days, and many GP surgeries allow you to book further in advance"

Codswallop. GPs have no contractual obligation to see your within 2 days. In fact the more difficult and the more unpleasant booking an appointment is, the fewer people book and the more money the NHS pays the practice.

To make it look as if appointments are available and make it as difficult as possible to book a lot of practices established 'advance access', not real advance access but another way to make getting an appointment difficult.

It works by asking all patients compete for the insufficient appointments in a limited time e.g. between 8 and 8.30am. The competition is for appointments that were available the previous day, but hidden away until 8am. Appointments that should have been available for booking ahead, like in 2 or 3 days, that's why you cannot get an appointment in 2 or 3 days in a lot of practices. This way the practices could tell the PCT: Hey it is possible to get an appointment (small print: if you ring at 8 and are lucky enough to get through). A few years ago practices were then paid a bonus for this scam, but the bonus does not exist anymore.

Why would the PCT collude in this deception that there are sufficient appointments in all practices? Ah, PCTs were getting a bonus for making sure that a certain amount of practices were achieving the 2 day target.

But what good is it in any case to see the GP in 2 days if you cannot get a hospital appointment in a reasonable amount of time? Why is there not a 2 day target for hospitals, physios, podiatry, district nursing, psychology etc?

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Page last reviewed: 06/02/2014

Next review due: 06/02/2016

Questions to ask at your doctor's appointment

Professor Sir Muir Gray talks about the importance of clear, accurate and reliable information to help doctors and patients make decisions about their health and treatment. Sir Muir Gray has worked in public health for 35 years.

Media last reviewed: 02/10/2013

Next review due: 02/10/2015

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