How to find a doctor

Two young people are sitting at a desk smiling and laughing. They are talking about how to find a doctor

Be it a wart or a more serious health concern, your doctor will always be your first port of call, so make sure you’re registered. Read our guide to how to find a doctor, get an appointment, get medication and how to change doctors’ surgery.

Who is my GP?

Your family doctor, also known as a general practitioner (GP), may be someone you’ve known for years, but once you move away you should find a local GP and register with them. Whether you’re in student digs or have moved to a new area, there’ll be a number of surgeries you can choose from.

How to register with a doctor

To register with a doctor, you’ll need to take your medical card, which gives your personal details and NHS number, and fill in a registration form at the surgery. You can also register without a medical card by completing a GMS1 form, which should also be available at the surgery.

You’ll be given a practice leaflet telling you when the surgery is open, how to make an appointment, which health professionals are based at the surgery and the other services and clinics they operate. These can include: minor surgery, physiotherapy, counselling and clinics – such as mother and baby, family planning, drug addiction or stop smoking – and specialist equipment for people with disabilities.

Problems registering with a doctor

You have the right to be registered with the GP practice of your choice as long as you live within its catchment area and it hasn’t closed its patient list – you can be refused as a new patient on these grounds, so check with the receptionist first.

However, don’t fret if you’re ill and haven’t managed to register with a practice; GPs are required to provide emergency treatment even if you’re not registered with them. If you’re staying in an area for less than three months you can approach any local GP and ask to be seen as a temporary resident. This also applies to students who go home during the holidays if they’re registered at a surgery near uni.

Getting an appointment with a GP

The time it takes to get an appointment varies significantly from practice to practice. As a general guide, for non-urgent cases you can expect to see a doctor within two working days, but emergency cases can be seen on the same day if you call first thing in the morning. Unfortunately some wait times are a bit longer at the moment due to the backlogs created by the coronavirus pandemic. Make sure you let them know if it’s an emergency that really can’t wait and don’t put off going if it’s something you’re concerned about.

Also, thanks to patient demand, many practices now offer extended hours on certain days, and some even open over the weekend. However, home visits are generally reserved for housebound patients, unless your condition is life threatening or requires urgent medical attention.

Whether you’ve booked in advance or on the day, it’s important to keep your appointment. If you need to cancel, call as soon as possible – doctors don’t take too kindly to missed appointments because you had a hangover or simply forgot.

You can still speak to someone when the surgery is closed as all GPs must provide an out-of-hours service, but you won’t necessarily speak to a doctor from the surgery. Since 2004, many practices have transferred this responsibility to their primary care trust (PCT) or NHS Direct. Check with your practice for details.

How to get medication from your GP

If you need medication your GP will write a prescription for you to take to a pharmacy. You may have to pay for this, but there are exemptions. For those on long-term medication you may be able to collect a repeat prescription without having to see your doctor. This will be discussed at your appointment.

Seeing a doctor about embarrassing problems

No matter how gross or embarrassing the health care you require seems to you, you can guarantee that your doctor will have seen it all before. Whether it’s regarding pant-area problems, bathroom habits or bodily functions, try to remember that it’s their job to deal with all manner of health issues and ignoring it will only make it worse. However, if you really can’t face your GP you can always request to be treated by a different doctor. Remember, you have a right to doctor patient confidentiality too.

Seeing a doctor before travelling abroad

Doctors don’t just deal with sickness. If you’re heading off on an adventure, don’t leave without talking to your GP about inoculations and anti-malarials. Some may be free under the NHS, though there may be a charge for others. It’s important to think ahead as some inoculations can take up to six weeks before they take effect. See our guide to vaccinations and travelling to learn more.

Good medical practice

Everyone has the right to expect a good standard of care from their GP as set out by The General Medical Council. You may not see your GP from one year to the next, but they should be someone whom you can rely upon for everything from the right treatment and diagnosis of illness to kindness and compassion during times of stress.

Complaining about a GP

If you feel you’ve been treated badly and want to make a complaint about the care or service provided by your GP or surgery, contact the person at your surgery responsible for the practice complaints procedure. If you don’t get the response you’re after you can take it further. We’ve an article on how to complain about a GP here.

How to change doctors’ surgery

If you’re already registered somewhere and you’re wondering how to change doctors’ surgery, you can simply register somewhere else without having to give a reason for leaving the last place, as long as you’re in the catchment area of the new surgery and they have some spaces available. If not, you might find yourself unable to register. See our article on how to change GP for more support.

Keep in mind it is always best practice to tell your old surgery you’re leaving, particularly if you want to ensure they don’t lose your medical records, which can still happen sometimes.

Need more help using health services? Check out our other articles here. You can also use the NHS website to find your local GP.

Next Steps



By The Mix Staff

Updated on 22-Sep-2022