What is primary care?

National Health Service (NHS) care is provided in two main ways: primary care (GPs and community services) and secondary care (hospitals and specialists).

Primary care is the day-day healthcare available in every local area and the first place people go when they need health advice or treatment. It’s the first stop for symptoms that are new or for concerns about physical or mental health.

Primary care includes:

GPs (general practitioners) – the family or local doctor
chemists (pharmacies)
community and practice nurses
community midwives and health visitors
family planning or sexual health clinics
out of hours GP services
hearing care providers

What do primary care health professionals do?
Primary care professionals – such as GPs, practice nurses or pharmacists – help take care of the basics of care, focusing on preventing illness, making diagnoses (working out what the problem is), and treating conditions that don’t need hospital care. They also look after pregnant women (antenatal care). As they’re usually the first professionals people go to see when they’re unwell or hurt, they’re considered ‘primary’.

A GP explains what primary and secondary care is.

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What does primary care involve?
The aim of primary care is to provide an easy, accessible route to care, whatever the patient’s concern – whether it’s a common minor illness, a long term condition, or to prevent future ill-health through advice, immunisation (injections) and screening programmes (such as cervical screening). Family planning and sexual health services are also part of primary care, and don’t need a GP referral.

In the NHS, the main source of primary health care is general practice – going to see the GP (family or local doctor). GPs deal with a broad range of physical, mental and emotional problems rather than specialising in a particular disease. As well as finding out what’s causing a person’s symptoms, GPs also act on behalf of the patient as an advocate (support), making sure that people who are living with health problems get all the care they need. Depending on the health problem, patients may be referred (passed on) by the GP to hospital or to a specialist.

What to do when local surgery GPs are unavailable
GPs provide ‘out of hours’ care for problems that can’t wait. They are available in the evenings and weekends when someone’s usual surgery is closed.

A GP explains what out of hours care is and what it covers.

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NHS ‘walk-in centres’ are usually managed by a nurse and are available to everyone. An appointment isn’t needed. Most centres are open every day and outside office hours. Walk-in centres can be used when someone can’t see their GP because the surgery is closed or they can’t get an appointment when they need it. Anyone can also use a walk-in centre if they haven’t registered with a GP. Walk-in centres can be used when the health problem isn’t an emergency.

A GP explains what a walk-in centre is and the kind of problems dealt with there.

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People who have an urgent, serious problem (like a broken arm) can go straight to a hospital Accident and Emergency (A&E) department. If anyone’s in any doubt about where they should go, they can call the NHS non-emergency number to get advice.

What is secondary care?

National Health Service (NHS) care is provided in two main ways: primary care (GPs and community services) and secondary care (hospitals and specialists). Primary care...