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Seeing the GP: Advice and tips for young people

NHS walk-in centres

NHS ‘walk-in centres’ are usually managed by nurses and are available to everyone. Some also offer access to doctors. No appointment is needed, though there may be a bit of a wait to be seen. Most centres are open every day and outside office hours. They can be used when someone:

•    can’t see their GP because the surgery is closed
•    can’t get an appointment when they need one
•    needs to see a GP or nurse but hasn’t registered with a surgery

Walk-in centres can be used when the health problem isn’t an emergency – the NHS advises that they’re not designed for treating long-term conditions or immediately life-threatening problems.
 

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

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

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What is a walk-in centre and what kind of problems are dealt with there?

Yes. Walk-in centres are mostly in big cities and they’re for dealing with urgent problems, usually minor illnesses, things like minor infections or minor cuts and sprains, things like hay fever. They’re run by nurses. You can walk in you don’t have to have an appointment.

Okay.

So they’re very useful for urgent care for small things, but they don’t have your records there and usually there isn’t a doctor there. It’s just a nurse lead service.

And so I’m guessing it’s similar to A&E, well within GP practices.

It’s a little bit like a minor A&E absolutely, but it’s not somewhere you’d go if you had a broken bone.

So if someone went into a walk-in centre and they actually needed medication or something, can someone prescribe them with medication or?

There’d be some limited things that they can prescribe. So they might be able to give them things like antibiotics for a bladder infection or cream for athletes foot or something like that. But they wouldn’t be able to give more serious or long-term medication.

If that was the case and they couldn’t be provided with medication, what happens after a walk-in centre appointment?

So two possibilities: one, if it’s urgent, that patient would be likely to be sent onto A&E.

Okay.

Or if it’s not something that has to be dealt with absolutely immediately, then the patient would be asked to go and see their own GP back at home.
Walk-in centres offer access to a range of treatments for minor illnesses and injuries, including:

•    minor cuts, bruises, burns, strains, insect and animal bites
•    stitches, wounds and dressing care
•    serious cuts or wounds and fractures  
•    infections, rashes, hay fever
•    stomach aches, vomiting and/or diarrhoea
•    blood pressure checks
•    emergency contraception (pharmacists can also help with this)

Peter hardly ever goes to the doctor’s as he’s usually healthy, but has sometimes been to a walk-in centre because he wanted to be seen by a GP that day. Same-day appointments are hard to get at his local surgery and sometimes there’s less of a wait at the walk-in centre.
 

The walk-in centre is further than the local surgery but Peter went there a couple of times because of an infection. The GP advised him to go to hospital.

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The walk-in centre is further than the local surgery but Peter went there a couple of times because of an infection. The GP advised him to go to hospital.

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How often would you say you go to see the doctor in a year say?

Apart from if there's anything sort of specific, maybe once a year or so, never much more unless something crops up and you have to go and see them.

And you mentioned a walk-in centre – is that part of the GP's surgery or?

No, there's a separate one down in [place name] I think that does the walk-in. I think it's made specifically for a walk-in clinic, or it might be a larger site. And that one's…it's just the one below A&E, and that one's also quite run down the whole centre. I think they might be refurbishing it, the whole thing. But it isn't…the way I remember it it's quite an old site, that one as well.

And you mentioned that you’ve been there a few times. Is it quite easy to get there, is it further than the doctor's surgery?

It's quite a bit further. You have to get the car down there and drive for a few minutes but it isn't too bad to get to, for me. For others in [place name], it's quite a while away but it isn't too bad.

Yeah. And did you go to the walk-in centre because the GPs’ surgery was closed, or you couldn’t get an appointment? Was there any real reason…you know, different reason that it's better to go there than to the GP's surgery, any particular…?

I think you need to go to the GP, you need to have an appointment I think, they don’t like you going unless you’ve got an appointment because they're normally fully booked out. And so, if you walk in there to ask for one, they normally will have you waiting for quite some time, and then they need to bunk everyone else on the timetable. So it's normally best to go to the walk-in because then you just have to wait for hopefully a shorter time and you don’t have to disrupt everyone else who's waiting.

So, a few times, can you remember how many times you might have gone to the walk-in centre?

I think I've been twice for the same…it was sort of like a viral infection I think; it was the same thing twice on two separate occasions. And I think it was…and then they just sent the, I think they sent us back onto the hospital to investigate it further after that.

Yeah. So you went into the walk-in centre and can you remember, when you’ve been there, have you had to wait a long time before you saw a doctor?

It was quite a long wait I think. It wasn’t too bad but you know you're quite…if you're there, you're normally quite nervous and you're waiting for something to happen, and so it feels quite a long time. But it wasn’t too bad, it was quite busy that day I think…I think it was the weekend.
Auberon’s local surgery operates as a walk-in centre as well as a surgery for registered patients. He wished that there were more nurses working there so there’d be less waiting.
 

Auberon once waited 8 hours to be seen as a walk-in patient. The nurse speaks to every patient first and decides if they need to see a doctor.

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Auberon once waited 8 hours to be seen as a walk-in patient. The nurse speaks to every patient first and decides if they need to see a doctor.

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I think they could have slightly more nurses working in terms of a walk-in centre, because every time I go there, there was all the chairs…it was like fifty chairs and they always used to be packed and people standing around, and it was always packed. So I think there could be less waiting…for most I had to wait for a walk-in centre was something like eight hours; eight hours. 

Eight hours?

So, yeah, so I think there could be more nursing staff or… to minimise the waiting time.

So some of the people could actually see a nurse instead of the GP?

Yeah, because it's run… my GP's run by a… it's a nurse led clinic, so it's run by nurses. So every walk-in centre, you get you would see a nurse first. And then if the nurse thought it was necessary, they would ask you to see a GP. 

But on, at weekends, it used to be within the area if you're within the age range. But, however, if you are a registered patient there you can go and see anyone you like really, depends on your appointments. But if you are just a walk-in patient who's from a different surgery, then you need to go and see a nurse first, and then they will tell you what to do next.
Simon, who has juvenile arthritis and Crohn’s, usually sees the same GP when he has a problem. On the odd occasion when he couldn’t get an appointment at his local surgery on the day he needed one, he went to a walk-in centre instead:
 

Simon would only go to A&E if it was very serious. Ideally, he’d like it if his local surgery stayed open longer.

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Simon would only go to A&E if it was very serious. Ideally, he’d like it if his local surgery stayed open longer.

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There has been an odd occasion where a joint has swollen up badly or, you know, something has happened that isn’t right and is quite desperate really. But I’m obviously conscious of going to A&E. You know, I only go to A&E if it’s really, really serious. So I go to like the walk-in centres which are quite local really and I see a GP there, and they’ve perhaps given me antibiotics if I’ve needed them or they said, you know, “You need to go to, you need to go to A&E perhaps, you know, it’s that serious.” 

So it is helpful to have them port of calls which are open outside of GP hours because, you know, at a weekend or in the evening, things normally happen when the GPs not there.

In an ideal world, would you prefer it if the GP surgeries were open longer or …?

Definitely. So my GP surgery closes at six o’clock. So I work in [place name], so I don’t get home until eight o’clock at night. So when I have an appointment I work from home, I’ll take the day off, or have the day off, which is an inconvenience to the company. It doesn’t add to the economy at all really. So having them longer hours and, you know, weekend hours as well would be really helpful for the patients who are working and trying to contribute to society. To help them just to fit it into their lives really.
Hannah feels that getting an appointment with the GP has got harder over the years at her local surgery. She sometimes thinks about registering with another practice, which is less busy but slightly further away, but likes the GP she has seen all her life. When she couldn’t get an appointment for her son, who was 11-months-old at the time and ‘absolutely covered in chicken pox’, she drove to a walk-in centre.
 

The walk-in centre was about to close so Hannah had to go to A&E. There, she was given antibiotics for her baby.

The walk-in centre was about to close so Hannah had to go to A&E. There, she was given antibiotics for her baby.

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I had to take my son, he had chicken pox as I said and he was very ill. So I called the doctor, oh that’s right I, my son was about 11 months old when he got the chicken pox and they were really, he was absolutely covered in chicken pox. They were all in his mouth, they were everywhere so he was really unwell. He couldn’t eat or drink anything as he was in a lot of pain. 

So I called the doctor in the afternoon because I was getting really worried about him one day and they said ‘Look we can’t see you’ you know. I was hoping to see them that day, you know, cos there actually has been times where I’ve been able to take him down that day, which I can tell you about after. And they said, ‘Sorry you’re going to have to go to the walk-in centre.’ 

So I think I went to the walk in centre which perhaps closed at about 5:00 or something and they said ‘We can’t see you because we’re closing’. So then I had to take him to A&E.

Did you walk there?

I drove.

You drove, yeah.

And they couldn’t see him, like I wasn’t even allowed in the gate, you know. So then I had to go to A&E and he was in hospital, he wasn’t hospitalised but I was given antibiotics and things like that by the hospital.

That’s quite a long....

Yeah, yeah definitely.

What would have been better in this situation, what would have been more helpful for you?

Just to see my GP if, yeah but I also understand that GPs have appointments, they finish at a certain time and they 99% of the time go over that time and stay late and work through their lunch, you know. I can, I can sympathise with that as well.
GPs provide ‘out of hours’ care for problems that can’t wait. They’re available in the evenings and weekends when a person’s usual surgery is closed. Private GP services are another alternative – information about these is usually available online.
 
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