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Seeing the GP: Advice and tips for young people

Out of hours GP services

All GP practices (surgeries or health centres) are linked to an out of hours service. The details for this are available on the surgery answer phone outside normal working hours. GPs provide out of hours care for problems that can’t wait. They’re available when someone’s usual surgery is closed. The out of hours service usually runs from 6.30pm to 8am on weekdays, and all day at weekends and bank holidays, but this will vary if the practice runs some evening or Saturday morning surgeries.
 

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

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

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What is out of hours care and what does this cover?

So out of hours care is GP care, so it’s in the community but when your GP surgery is closed. So most GPs cover from 8:00 in the morning till 6:30 in the evening and some do clinics in the evenings and the weekends as well. But outside those times, other GPs will be offering the same sort of service but to a bigger range of patients.

So are these, is this out of hours service somewhere that patients go to or is it over the phone, cos I know there’s some phone services as well?

Yes, usually what will happen is that you will ring up, you may get some advice over the phone, you may be invited to come to the out of hours centre to be seen by a doctor. Or sometimes the doctor may come to you if that’s necessary.
Many people we spoke to had never used out of hours services. Susan once went because of an eye condition that she was very worried about. She couldn’t see very well and had had a terrible headache for three days. She didn’t know what to do so she phoned the NHS non-emergency number. It was a weekend. The out of hours GP examined Susan’s eye and advised her to go to an eye hospital. She ended up going earlier than the appointment time given to her because she was so worried. It ended up being a very rare eye condition:
 

Susan needed help when the surgery was closed. She was advised to go to the out of hours service. She was impressed with how quickly she could see a doctor.

Susan needed help when the surgery was closed. She was advised to go to the out of hours service. She was impressed with how quickly she could see a doctor.

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I called 111, it was over the weekend that I just decided I can't, and yes they told me to go and see the GP. 

So, you called 111 - they told you to go to see the GP – this was a weekend? 

Yes. 

So did you know what to do in that situation? 

They told me that there was a special practice that has…where I could go so it was really good actually. They told...and it was really convenient and close by and I could go in really quickly, so I was really impressed with how quickly I could see someone actually, yeah. 

So you spoke to somebody on the phone. Once you put the phone down did you go more or less straight away? 

I did. At this point I was quite panicked, especially that I think having that confirmation that I did need to see the GP made me think, 'I can't keep denying this', yeah. 

Did you go by yourself or? 

I went by myself, yeah. 

And so this was an out of hour's service. Whereabouts was it, you mentioned it was close, it wasn’t your actual GP's surgery? 

No, it was just down the road from here, so it was about a twenty minute walk for me from home, yeah. 

Were you OK walking? 

I was fine, yeah, I could see enough. 

You could see enough to.... 

Yes, I could. 

Was it all blurry though? 

It was, yeah. Well I had just these black patches where I couldn’t see anything, yeah. 

That’s quite scary in a way isn't it? 

It was, I was quite panicked to be honest, yeah. 

So you went then to see a doctor there? 

Yeah. 

Can you remember if you had to wait a long time, or were you seen quite quickly? 

I think I waited about half an hour, which I guess is what I was expecting. They told me that it might be a wait. I was just happy to be there to be honest, yeah. 
 

The out of hours GP thought Susan might have a migraine. She prescribed some tablets but also gave her a hospital appointment time to attend.

The out of hours GP thought Susan might have a migraine. She prescribed some tablets but also gave her a hospital appointment time to attend.

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So you then got seen. Can you remember who you were seen by? 

I can't remember their name or anything, I can remember she was a female GP, yeah. 

And you told her what was happening? 

Yes. 

What did she say or do, did she…? 

It was interesting – so she thought it was a migraine as well. She didn’t really know what to make of it to be honest, which you wouldn’t expect her to because it's such a rare thing. But actually, I mean she didn’t actually formally test my vision which I was really surprised about. So she looked at my retina, couldn’t see anything, and just, she prescribed me some migraine medication and told me that it might be a migraine. But said that I should go to eye casualty, and gave me a little slip to go and see them at a certain time. 

I actually ended up going a lot earlier than she'd given me the slip for because by this point I was really worried. I had quite a bad headache and things were just getting worse, and I just thought, 'I've got to go into hospital,' yeah. 
The out of hours GP and walk-in centres are health services that can be used when the problem isn’t an emergency or life-threatening. It saves people having to go to Accident and Emergency (A&E), which is for more serious problems or injuries. If someone has an injury that isn’t serious, they can get help from a minor injuries unit (MIU) or urgent care centre (UCC) rather than going to A&E. This allows A&E staff to concentrate on people with serious problems and saves people from a potentially long wait.

Minor Injury Units (MIUs) are nurse-led services that treat injuries such as strains, sprains, and broken bones. No appointment is needed. If necessary, some people might be referred to specialist services or to a GP. Minor injuries include:

•    simple ear, nose and eye complaints
•    nose bleeds
•    minor bumps to the head
•    sprains, broken bones, fractures, and dislocated fingers
•    minor burns, cuts and bruises
•    bites and stings
 
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