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Seeing the GP: Advice and tips for young people

Choosing a GP surgery

Everyone has a right to register with a GP practice of their choice as long as they live within the ‘catchment area’ (the area that the GP covers) and it has space for new patients. A GP practice is the same as a doctor’s surgery or local health centre. People who live in rural areas (such as a village) might have less choice about where they can register.
 

A GP talks about what’s important when choosing a doctors’ surgery.

A GP talks about what’s important when choosing a doctors’ surgery.

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Another quick question, I always assumed that when a patient comes to deciding which GP to use, I always assumed that it would be the one closest to their house because that’s where their family doctor would be based. Is there any other decisions that they should take into consideration when choosing a GP?

Yes. I mean convenience is a big thing, can you actually get there and also can the GP get to you if you need visiting at home because most GPs still do home visiting and would visit you at home of you couldn’t get to the surgery. But, having said that, in most cities there’s a number of different surgeries you could go to who would cover where you live and then you need to think about how convenient it is for you, what their opening hours are like, what recommendations you might have from others about the doctors at that surgery.

Okay, and can patients choose who their GP is or are they required to stick to their family doctor?

Patients

If they have preferences.

Patients can certainly ask to be seen by a particular GP and can ask to register with that GP. Some GPs will be very, very popular and their list will be full so they haven’t got room for anyone else, so there are limits to that choice, but basically people can choose.
There are a number of things to think about when choosing a local surgery. People can phone or visit it before they register if they want to get a first impression. Things to think about include:

•    location – is it easy to get to, whether that’s by walking, public transport or driving? If driving, is it easy to park outside the surgery?
 

Kyle’s doctor’s surgery is very convenient. It’s walking distance and the chemist is close by.

Kyle’s doctor’s surgery is very convenient. It’s walking distance and the chemist is close by.

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You mentioned that you're quite happy with your doctor and the surgery. So if someone was moving to your area and they were looking for a new doctor to join, would you recommend that one?

Yeah, because there's a pharmacy right next to it, so it's convenient.

How do you usually get there – do you walk there or can you take a bus or car or....

It's like a road away. Well, you come out and you just turn right, it's right there.

So easy walking distance?

Yeah, and the doctors, it's adequate you know, no problems really.

How do you usually go to the doctors?

I walk, yeah, I'm pretty close to it.
When Aphra went to university, it was easy and convenient to register with a GP. Like several other students we talked to, she was given a pack containing a registration form and list of local surgeries:
 

Aphra chose the surgery that was easiest to get to by bus. It was also recommended by older students who were registered there.

Aphra chose the surgery that was easiest to get to by bus. It was also recommended by older students who were registered there.

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It was really good actually at my university. The pack that you got when you signed up to halls had a form to register with a GP. And actually they listed all the GPs in the area, and all the contact information, and then you can choose which doctor you wanted to sign up with. 

So a lot of people like me had gone for this one surgery just because it was really convenient to get to. It was in the centre of the town, and so it was one bus ride down if you weren't feeling well, and you were there. 

Some people had gone for the one that was closest, but actually that meant it was on the side of this awful hill and there was no bus route there.

You have to walk there?

Yeah. They were the people who ended up paying for taxis and things. So it was quite often there was people showing you to your rooms when you first moved in. And a lot of those people who were there, and already students, were going, "I'd go to this surgery" or, "Avoid this one, they're terrible." And so you kind of got the word of mouth the minute you walked through the door. 

But it was really useful that you got your keys, you signed up to a GP, and that was you done. It wasn’t an optional thing. It was, “You are signing up to a GP while you're here.”

Right. So you didn’t actually go into the surgery, the doctor's surgery to register?

No, there was a form and the university collected all of them. And then they worked out which ones were going to which surgeries and delivered them to them.
•    opening hours – what are the opening times? Can people book appointments outside normal working hours?
 

Auberon changed to another surgery because it was closer to college. He also liked that it was open 7 days a week from 8am to 9pm.

Auberon changed to another surgery because it was closer to college. He also liked that it was open 7 days a week from 8am to 9pm.

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I changed to [place name] Health Centre. I felt it was better for me because firstly my college is in [place name]; secondly it's open seven days a week. So it's a…yeah and it's also an NHS health GP practice, and it's also a walk-in centre as well. So, it's open seven days a week so, which is better for me so I can go on the weekend when I'm not at college or anything, so it doesn’t affect my college life. And then they did have online appointments booking service, it was like Vision Online and stuff.

And have you used the online?

I have, yes, and I found them very useful. And I can find that I can reorder my repeat prescriptions on there, and all of that.

That’s great. So how far is it, can you walk there or...

No, it's about a twenty minute bus ride.

Do you mind that or?

I don’t mind it all, no. As I said, I need to go to [place name] for college anyway, so it's about a ten minute walk from my college anyway, so....

And it's open seven days a week?

Yes.

And what times is it usually open?

It's open eight till nine.

8am till 9pm?    

Yeah.

Seven days a week?

Yeah

That’s very good.

Even on Christmas as well.

Really? Right.

It's one of the very few health centres that is open seven days a week as you probably may know, but yeah.

So how do you feel about that?

Good, yeah.

And your friends, do they all go to that one or?

We've recommended a few to…a few of them to it, but some are not in the catchment area of where it covers, if you know what I mean, because it only covers certain areas of…you can be registered here if you live within a certain area.
•    appointments – does the surgery offer a range of appointment times, including same-day appointments for urgent problems? How far in advance can people book an appointment with their preferred GP? Does the surgery offer telephone consultations and online booking?
•    reputation – what is the reputation of the surgery? What do neighbours, family or friends say about it?
•    GPs – does the surgery have male and female GPs, and any doctors with special interests?
 

Simon lives with arthritis. It was important for him to have a GP with an interest in this and to see the same doctor whenever possible.

Simon lives with arthritis. It was important for him to have a GP with an interest in this and to see the same doctor whenever possible.

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I used to like going to see that doctor [who knew about arthritis] because I felt more comfortable talking to him and he knew, if I was trying to explain something, that he knew, you know, my history and how it fit into me. Whereas with new doctors, sometimes you said something and perhaps they didn’t quite get it or understand the implications for you. But I think they’re probably more frustrating for my parents at the time. They sort of dealt with them a little bit more than I did.

And then you heard about the reputation of the doctor. Your parents heard about the reputation of the doctor and asked to be under that doctor so that you could see that doctor every time. Is that right, or….?

More or less. You know, you try and get to see that doctor but it’s not always possible. But what we wanted was for him to be our registered GP. So he would receive all the letters and would chase anything up if it came through to the GPs and the hospital. So that was important to know that, you know, you are being looked at by one doctor, even though you might not see them every time. If you need to see them urgently, you know, it’s a booking system and you book in with an available GP. 

And you mentioned he had a good reputation. Your parents thought he had a good reputation. Did they talk to you about this at all or it was people, other people who’d seen him, when they mentioned it to your parents and they thought, ah…?

I think it was a bit of both really. You know, even as a young child I knew, heard that this doctor, I had seen him a couple of times when I was at the GP and he was really nice and seemed to know a lot about juvenile arthritis which, at the time, not many people seemed to do because when you used to say, “Oh, juvenile?” He knew about it. You know, he’d done his reading. He’d done his extra training. He kept up to date with the medications. 

So it was really nice when I went, and I was on the injections, some doctors had never heard of it because it was coming up for retirement age. But he knew about all the medications and what he couldn’t do with being on that medication. And it was, you know, it was down to him, like he said to me, “I couldn’t have live vaccines and raw egg materials as well.” Which I hadn’t been told beforehand. So he really knew his stuff and that gave me a little more confidence in you could go to him at any time really to see him, or you could drop him a letter and it would get to him and he would get back to me. 

Right. You dropped him letters, did you?

Yes, my mum did that. And then, you know, I sort of started taking over a bit when I became a teenager. You know he said, “If you can’t see me in clinic, you know, you can write a letter. Leave it in reception and I’ll ring you back.” And he used to do that after hours as well. So it was really, it just added a little bit more personalised care really, that. You knew somebody was looking after you and they really knew you, really.
Fran had mental health problems when she was younger (psychosis), starting around the age of 13. She really liked her GP and wanted to stay with him when she moved, even if it meant taking a bus to see him.
 

Fran will be putting in a special request to stay with the same GP. He’s known her since she was a child and knows all about her health problems.

Fran will be putting in a special request to stay with the same GP. He’s known her since she was a child and knows all about her health problems.

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I’m waiting to move because I’m sick of living in a place where there’s drug dealers everywhere, really, really sick of it. I’m trying to move. I know what I was gonna say, cos you’re not from [place name], are you? So you won’t know the areas. Basically I’m trying to move, and I will do it because I’m really determined to do it, to like an area where there’s loads of green space. And it’s outside the inner city but you can still get a bus. It’s just gonna be peace and quiet, and a lot of old people live round there.

It’s away from all that?

All that crap. Right now I’m living, I’m in a big inner city like block of flats with a couple of other... It’s doing my nut in. So I stay with my mum quite a lot. But my nurse [Community Psychiatric Nurse] is like helping me with stuff like that. That’s what I like, like use her for, well, not use her, but you know what I mean.

So have you got any time plans about when that might happen? Did she say how long that could take?

Probably a couple of months. But I’ve started the process. I mean I wanna move to [place name] eventually. So, but at first it’s like steps and that. You can’t take one big leap. You gotta, yeah.

And say, once you do move, then will you still have the same GP? Or would you have to change?

No, no, but I’ll always have the same GP if you put in a special request. Then if you have mitigating circumstances.

Is that what you will do cos you --

Yeah.

Would you want to stay with the same one?

Yeah, I wanna stay with the same one cos he understands the situation. So I don’t have to go, “Oh no, but I need this drug.” He’ll, he can write it up because he understands it. Cos he’s known me so long, yeah.

So when he sees you when you want repeat prescriptions and everything, do you feel comfortable then to see him or do you do you feel understood?

Yeah, I mean – ish, I don’t, to be completely honest, I don’t think about him day in, day out. I mean if I like go to the shop and I see him at the shop or somewhere, I go, “Hello.” I mean he’s a nice man, he’s a nice man. And I think I did scare him. I mean ten years later he’s still like, “I can’t believe what happened with you.” And that was like ten years later. So, but, no, I think he’s genuinely nice and we do like each other in the way a person’s meant to like their GP, yeah.
•    information – is it easy to get information about the surgery? There may be leaflets about it in the waiting room or on the internet.
•    atmosphere – is the atmosphere organised, relaxed, and professional?
•    reception staff – do the receptionists come across as helpful?

There are a number of ways of finding out about local GP practices. People talked to friends, family or neighbours, or looked online. 

Most surgeries have their own website. This can be useful for information about opening hours, the services provided, the staff, relevant forms, and online services such as booking an appointment. There’s more information on the local NHS website (for more see ‘Information and Resources’). The NHS does an annual survey of people’s experiences of all GP practices and makes the results available online, so anyone can search what people say they like and dislike about each practice. There are also a number of independent online review sites.
 

Ish read reviews online before deciding which surgery to register with. He found it frustrating finding a GP he liked and changed a few times.

Ish read reviews online before deciding which surgery to register with. He found it frustrating finding a GP he liked and changed a few times.

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So basically, so when I try to go to a new doctor I always tend to google it up, like who’s around my area? And I look at the reviews now. So I think that’s one thing that the doctors and GPs are forgetting nowadays that social media and everything is really key in people these days, so... So we will google it. Go online. Try to find reviews about it. If it’s a good review then you’re going to go there. 

I mean, yeah of course, occasionally every place has one bad one. But like, I’m going to try and go to the place where there are most good reviewers and just when I get there, I mean yeah there were times when that doctor wasn’t good for me and I really don’t know why. It was just, I think you need to also have a connection with your own doctor now, as in making you feel welcome. If I don’t feel welcome or if I feel rushed, I just straight up go to someone else. 

It’s just finding the right doctor that’s a little bit frustrating, because you do have your local doctor, but if the doctor is not treating you the way you want to be treated, you, I just think you just have to like just keep searching. And you’re just like on the website, Googling up, who’s a good doctor and everything and that’s a little bit frustrating in my eyes, to me. I mean I went to about like three, four GPS before I actually settled on one that I’m like, ‘Okay, I actually like this person.’ So that part to me is like really frustrating.
John moved house several times because of university or work. He looked on the internet whenever he needed to join a new practice:
 

Websites helped John decide which surgery to register with. He prefers sites that are simple and not too technical.

Websites helped John decide which surgery to register with. He prefers sites that are simple and not too technical.

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So at the moment you haven’t registered, at the moment, but maybe, you know, you will at some point. And you’ll have a look at the internet then to, or would you ask other people at all, or would you prefer to look on the internet.... sometimes when you move to a new place you ask the neighbours or something like that?

I think I’d rely on the internet really. Usually if there’s anything wrong or something on the internet, someone will comment on it and some will give a bad review, so I’d probably go with them. If I had something particularly bad.

You mentioned that you Googled the GP surgery before and looked at different websites, and kind of decided which one to register with based on what you thought was the best website. So how did you decide which one had the best website?

Just from a web design standpoint. Yeah, pretty much the...

So what kind of advice would you have to GP surgeries if they wanted to make their, if they wanted to improve their website to make them look more attractive, what can they do?

I guess they’ve got to not make it very technical, you’ve just got to be like, ‘this is a great surgery, we have lots of very qualified doctors,’ and just make it as simple as possible. I did talk to [my relative that’s a GP] after that, though, and he said like the ones who can make the best websites are the ones who are clearly spending their time badly, so maybe I made the wrong choice.
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