A-Z

Seeing the GP: Advice and tips for young people

Registering with a GP

Here people talk about:

•    registering with a GP
•    whether it’s possible to register with a specific GP
•    health checks
•    changing surgeries
•    temporary registration if away from home

Registering with a GP
Everyone has the right to register with a GP if they live within the ‘catchment area’ and if the surgery has space for new patients. The ‘catchment area’ is the area that the GP covers. People can simply contact the local surgery and ask to register with them. Registering involves completing a form called a GMS1. It’s a straightforward form which asks for a person’s:

•    name and address 
•    date of birth 
•    NHS number (if known) 
•    name and address of previous GP
•    ethnicity 
•    views on organ donation 

Some GP surgeries will also ask to see:

•    proof of (photo) identity, such as a passport
•    proof of address, such as a print-off of a recent mobile phone bill

Some people, such as visitors from abroad, may be asked to show their passport and visa to check that they’re entitled to full NHS treatment.

The GP surgery will send the form to the local NHS area team. A patient’s medical records will then be transferred to the new surgery. The process of registering is the same whether someone is a student or working.

Anyone over the age of 16 can register with a GP by themselves. People under 16 have to be registered by their parents or guardians, but it doesn’t have to be at the same surgery as them or the rest of the family. Aphra registered with a new GP when she went to university. She found the process quick and easy. Soon after moving back home again after university, she registered with her previous doctor. This was important to her because she’d had health problems before.
 

It took ten minutes to fill in the form and ten minutes to see a nurse afterwards. Aphra didn’t want to get ill unexpectedly and have no GP.

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It took ten minutes to fill in the form and ten minutes to see a nurse afterwards. Aphra didn’t want to get ill unexpectedly and have no GP.

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Did you have to re-register with the GP when you came back?

Yeah. It was the first thing I did really when I moved in was go down to the GP's surgery. But because I'd had the travel medical card my NHS number was on it, and so it was probably one form. 

And then I had to have an appointment with a healthcare assistant and she just checked what illnesses I'd had because, unhelpfully for my doctor's surgery, the notes from Wales hadn’t all come across and some of them where in Welsh, and not in English, and that’s not any use for a [name of English county] GP's surgery at all [laughs] you know. There's really no Welsh speakers here, and so I had to kind of talk through the problems that I'd had and they checked that all my records were up to date. 

They weighed me, they checked my height. But, as I say, they didn’t make any judgements about any of it. And so that felt a lot better because, you know there were days where I was going, "Oh I could be thinner," but then there were also days where I'm going, "It wouldn’t hurt if I ate that double ice-cream."

So you joined…I mean that was one of the first things you did?

Yeah.

So some people don’t register for ages, but that was one of the first things you did. How do feel about the whole thing?

I think it was just that my GP's surgery was just down the road and, knowing that I had had health issues while I was at uni, it seemed like a really good idea because there's nothing worse than coming home, not registering straight away, realising you're ill and then realising you can't get in to see anybody. Whereas it took me maybe ten minutes to do the form and it was a ten minute appointment with this nurse. And then I knew that I could get same day appointments really easily. 
New university students are often given information about registering with a GP in their first week of term. Like Aphra, John found that registering was an easy and organised process. Nurses visited the university with the relevant forms, and new students didn’t have to visit the surgery unless they had a health problem.
 

John moved around a few times. He was registered at university first, then back at home. Later he moved again and registered with a new surgery.

John moved around a few times. He was registered at university first, then back at home. Later he moved again and registered with a new surgery.

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I think when we got there in fresher’s week, there were packs of stuff telling you all the essential things you needed to do. So I did that fairly quickly, and it was all quite well organised cos they had nurses coming to the college and things, doing blood pressure and all that sort of thing you get in the first check-up you do. So it seemed a bit like standard procedure for them.

Yeah, so you joined quite quickly. And could you remember actually going there to join, did you have to fill out forms beforehand or while you were there?

You filled out forms but they sent nurses into the college so it was all done there. So we didn’t really have to go there until there was an actual problem.

After you left university did you go back to the same family doctor, you know, the same family health centre or surgery?

For a little bit. I spent a year at home after university and it didn’t really make a lot of sense to change. And I actually think my mum sorted out all the paperwork and everything, and just sort of did it all for me because I was a bit apathetic about it, so...

And was that because you hardly ever go, and if you did you would ask first a family member [who is a GP]?

Pretty much, yeah, I think. I’ve always really thought about anything that could be sorted out quickly can be done and anything else I can sort it out as and when, so....

So for about a year you stayed with this surgery?

Yeah.

Then when did you move?

So when I moved to [place name] and I re-enrolled at, I think I actually re-enrolled because of this thing in my throat so...

So while you were at home for the year, did you go to the doctors at all in that year?

I didn’t go to the GP because I didn’t really have any health issues.

And then when you moved to [place name], you registered with a practice there?

Yeah.

Yeah, do you remember thinking, you know, how shall I register or how many surgeries are there? Or did you find a house first or accommodation and then think that’s the nearest?

I had a flat and then afterwards I sort of Googled the local GP surgeries. And I picked the one that had the nicest website and went from there.

So was that quite quickly after you moved or did you leave it a bit?

It was a bit of a while. I didn’t really have any pressing health concerns so I didn’t really feel the need to sort it out.
Is it possible to register with a specific GP?
Generally patients are registered with the practice (surgery or health centre) rather than with a specific doctor. All patients are allocated a named GP. Some practices are keen that patients stick to their own doctor whenever possible, but some don’t mind who a patient sees. People who have a long-term condition are encouraged to form a relationship with one doctor.

If someone prefers to see a specific GP, the surgery can note this in their records. But they may have to wait longer to see their preferred doctor or see someone else if their preferred GP is unavailable.

Simon has arthritis and Crohn’s disease (a condition that causes inflammation of the digestive system or gut). It was important for him to have a GP that knew about these conditions and to see the same doctor whenever possible.
 

‘Continuity of care’ is important to anyone with a long-term condition. It means they don’t have to repeat their story to a different doctor each time.

‘Continuity of care’ is important to anyone with a long-term condition. It means they don’t have to repeat their story to a different doctor each time.

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I think it’s really important that a person, especially somebody with a long term condition, has access to a GP who’s, you know, gives continuity of care, rather than seeing different people trying to repeat your story over and over again. 

When I was diagnosed with arthritis at three, I had one doctor, with my local GP, who looked after me for quite a number of years and he was really good in keeping the communications going with the hospital and this was when they didn’t really do email. It was all back to fax and everything. So he was really good at keeping on top of it. 

When I got to about eight or nine, he retired and we were just assigned to a, another GP in the practice who didn’t really know me. And with that arthritis, when I got an infection he used to put me on antibiotics straight away. And that’s something I knew and my parents knew, and my GP used to know, and he used to prescribe them to me. With the new GP, she said, “Oh no, let’s leave it a little while.” 

And what would happen is, I’d have a tonsillitis flare and then it would go to all the joints, and then I’d have to go to hospital to have joints drained. So that just added to that complexity. 

A few years going down the line, we got another GP which I still have now, and I think he’s looked after me for about eight years now. And it’s really lovely because when I was really bad, you know, he said, “You can contact me out of hours.” Just gave that little bit extra support. And kept up to date, chasing me up by ringing me up with blood results. Chasing appointments at the hospital and keeping the referrals going. So he was really helpful and it felt like there was two-way communication. 
Health checks
When someone registers with a new surgery, they'll often be invited to make an appointment for a health check within six months. Health checks are usually done by the practice nurse, who will ask the patient about their personal and family medical history. The nurse will also ensure that any vaccines (injections) and tests they need are up-to-date, and do some checks such as measuring blood pressure.
 

A GP explains what a health check involves.

A GP explains what a health check involves.

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Can you tell us about the different health checks that a patient needs to go through with a GP?

Yes. The routine health checks that happen, there are a few that happen when a baby’s very small. Then from the age of about 26 onwards, women are invited to have cervical smears and these are, that’s another thing the nurses do by the way, cervical smears which are to look at the health of the neck of the womb. And that’s a way of detecting changes before cancer develops, so it’s quite important to have those. 

Other than that, there are no routine checks scheduled really until about the age of 40 when the NHS health check comes in, which basically involves blood tests for cholesterol and some measurements of blood pressure, weight and height and advice about how to keep your heart healthy.
Changing surgeries
There may be many reasons why a person chooses to change practices and they’re entitled to do so. They don’t have to tell their existing surgery of their intention to change. Changing practices involves visiting the new surgery and asking to register as a patient with them. Again, no one has to explain their reasons for changing. They’ll need to complete a registration form and a request will then be made to their old practice to transfer their files.
 

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.
People often change practices when they move to a new area. This can be hard for young people who are at a time in their life when they move around a lot. While this was quick and easy for Aphra, Winston had moved around several times in the same city and wished the process was easier:
 

Winston couldn’t remember if he’d registered with a GP in every area he’d lived. If medical records were linked electronically across practices, changing surgeries could be easier.

Winston couldn’t remember if he’d registered with a GP in every area he’d lived. If medical records were linked electronically across practices, changing surgeries could be easier.

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I think I did get signed up somewhere. In [place name], I can't remember if I went to the doctors round there but I think I did get assigned somewhere.

And then from being in [place name] can you remember going at all, you know to the doctors for any reasons or every now and then?

In [place name] not really no, no.

And then the next time you mainly remember is when you broke your wrist?

Yeah

Can you remember being registered with a doctor at that point?

Yeah, because after [place name A] I moved – where did I move to? I went to [place name B] and then the clinic there was, I forgot that clinic but can't really remember that clearly. And then after that – after [place name B] it was, it was in [place name C]. [Place name C] clinic I remember because, yeah it was like four years ago whatever, something like that roughly. And it was quite nice. The clinic was, you know normal, normally it wasn’t that busy, it was just yeah alright. The waiting time was short so it was good service I think.

I think that would be better if they're all linked. So, if you moved to different locations whatever, they would still have your information, yeah.

Have you had that situation because you’ve moved around, where – 

Where they lack the information that I had from previous GP yeah. But yeah, they, I just have to re- you know, I just have to tell them again about the whole issue and when it happened so. They don’t really seem to be linked that much anyway so yeah.

So, the reasons you went weren't that linked.

Mmm yeah

But they didn’t always have your records, so did that ever delay anything?

No, you know it's like, getting like, if I have an issue and my current GP is you know, is different locations and I have to change. And I have to do the whole registration, and sometimes it's like - the last time I done it, it wasn’t straightforward. It was - I had to book an appointment for it- and it seemed as if I needed like a piece of extra details for it. But afterwards they told me that it wasn’t relevant so, the only thing, yeah that was the only thing that kind of delayed anything.

Could anything be improved there? So if GPs are listening to your interview and they have quite a lot of young people who've moved around to different GPs, different areas, is there anything that could be done better there, anything that could be improved there in terms of the records?

The records. Well linking them, that’s the main thing but the only other thing would be to register. If that could be done straight away, so it isn't like you go to that new GP and they register you straight away instead of having to come, instead of having to book an appointment to do it and everything.
Lucy had also moved within the same city but had put off registering with a GP. She hadn’t seen a doctor for about two years, though had used local mental health services. She’d got the registration forms a few times but had delayed registering for several reasons:
 

The appointments Lucy had with her previous GP put her off registering. She also had no proof of her new address and found the receptionists unfriendly.

The appointments Lucy had with her previous GP put her off registering. She also had no proof of her new address and found the receptionists unfriendly.

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I went back for my next appointment, like within the next few weeks, and he [GP] was just talking. And then I was meant to have another one. And I just felt like he was useless, so I just never went. And then I kept on meaning to register to the new doctor’s cos like, “Oh, they’ll probably be better.” I just never got round to it.

So this one you felt was a bit useless, did he give you any advice that you thought “This could help”? Cos you, you went really three times to see him, did you?

I got a lovely leaflet from 2008. It was 2014 when I went to see him.

About?

I can’t even remember. I saw it and I just thought, “This is a load of rubbish.” It didn’t even have anything we talked about on. And I just threw it in the bin. Which was a stupid idea, because it had a website written on it. But it was probably useless like everything else he gave me.

And did you feel you could talk to him? Or did you just think that, “He’s giving me informa-, like things that aren’t actually useful”? Or what, is, you know, is he really gonna be any good?

I just sort of gave up on him after that. I was like, “No, thanks. It was nice whilst it lasted. But no more.”

I think I just sort of prolong it like, “I’ll do it tomorrow. Oh, wait, no, forgot, I’ve got plans today. Do it the next day, do it the next day.” And then I just always forget. And then as well I need to like, you’re meant to have ID with your new address on. I don’t have any ID with my new address on. And so I’m prolonging doing that. I’m prolonging like doing every form of getting there that I can. But, yeah, I should really get round to that.

Is there anything off-putting about going to GPs? When you think, I’d rather go anywhere else but the GP.

I think for me at the moment it’s just more that it’s like I’ve got to go to a new one. So like --

it’s all that process?

Yeah, and you were on about receptionists. Like the receptionist there was so bitchy. Go in and it was like, “Yeah, what do you want?” And it was like, “I just want to transfer. All right?” And then it’s like, “Okay, here’s the forms.” “Thanks. That’s nice.” But, yeah, they were just a bit brash.
On one occasion, when John had moved back home for a while, his mum registered him with a GP and sorted out the paperwork. John moved again for a new job but was still registered at his previous surgery. He was usually healthy and well so rarely saw the GP:
 

John lived in four different places over the last few years. He intended to register with a GP but put it off because he hardly ever needed to see one.

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John lived in four different places over the last few years. He intended to register with a GP but put it off because he hardly ever needed to see one.

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So if we just kind of go through where you’ve had different doctor’s surgeries, even though you haven’t, you know, had the need to go very often. So first it was at home, then you moved to university, then did you move to [place name] after coming back home for a year?

Yeah.

To [place name A], and how long did you stay there with that doctors surgery?

I was in [place name A] for about 2 years, and I guess I was with the surgery about six months because I went quite late.

So for about one and a half years you didn’t see any doctor because you had no major need?

Yeah.

Yeah, and were there any small things, can you remember, that you could just phone and ask your [relative who is a GP]?

Not that I remember, I was usually quite, either healthy or not really that bothered by anything.

So you were there in the [place name A] Health Centre for about six months, and then where did you move next?

So then I moved down to [place name B] which is, with my partner, and now we’ve moved to [place name C].

So did you have a surgery there in [place name B]?

No, I think I’m still registered in [place name A]

Oh right, right [laughter] so how long were you there in [place name B] for?

A few months, two or three months, something like that.

So not very long then.

No.

In some ways really maybe you thought, did you know you would be there for a short time?

Yeah, it was always planned to move that quickly, so I guess I didn’t really think it was worth it.

And now you’re in [place name C] and your GP is still in [place name A] because... so far have you needed to?

No, I haven’t needed to do anything so I’m registered there. I think I will be booking at some point, but it’s on the backburner.

It’s on the backburner because you hardly ever go?

Yeah. 
Aphra felt that it was important to register as soon as she’d moved, even if she didn’t have any health problems, so she could see someone easily when she needed to. Sarah always made sure she was registered because she got the contraceptive pill from the GP. It’s a good idea to register with a doctor as soon as possible in a new area but young people felt the system didn’t always make this easy. It was tempting to put it ‘on the backburner’, as John said, given everything else going on in their lives.

There was a bit of confusion when Sarah registered with a practice when she was doing her PhD. One local surgery was for students and closed over the holidays, and the other one was for everyone else. She registered with the second surgery but was surprised when they moved her back to the student’s surgery:
 

One surgery seemed reluctant to register students. Sarah wanted to be registered there, though, because she lived in the area all year round and preferred the doctors.

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One surgery seemed reluctant to register students. Sarah wanted to be registered there, though, because she lived in the area all year round and preferred the doctors.

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I had a bit of a problem with them, so there’s two doctors centres in [place name], one is the student one and one of them is the non-student one. And partly because I’m here all the year round I can’t really be at the student one because they shut down pretty much for the holidays, which is most of the year in [place name]. So I joined the other one. However the other one is quite hostile to students joining because they try and keep it separate, which you can understand. So you have to really fight to kind of say that, “I’m a PhD student, I’m here all the year round.” 

And they moved me between, like they are technically the same centre I think so they, I rang up to get an appointment once and they said, “Oh you’re not actually registered at this centre.” And I said, “Well I’m not, I am registered.” And they said, “Oh no we’ve moved you.” And it was like, “No. You can’t move me without my consent. I decided that and I am at this centre and I need to be here.” So that’s been a bit of a problem and, again, you don’t see the same doctor every time but they are, they really are better than at the other centre.
Temporary registration
If someone wants to see a GP and is visiting an area for more than 24 hours but less than three months, they can apply to register with a surgery as a temporary resident using a form called a GMS3.

If a person plans to stay in the area for longer than three months, they can register with a local surgery permanently. Their NHS number will help with tracing their medical records as they move around.

When Sarah was home from university over the summer holidays, she needed to see the GP there. She’d been on antidepressants and felt more comfortable with the doctor at home than the one at university.
 

Sarah registered temporarily so she could see the doctor in the village. She registered permanently when she moved back home again for 2 years.

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Sarah registered temporarily so she could see the doctor in the village. She registered permanently when she moved back home again for 2 years.

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I went back home to the village that I live in, I could talk to the doctor there a bit more, or maybe I was just really upset and started talking about it, but yeah.

So year two and year three at university you were at the health centre, then when you finished Uni you went back home did you for a couple of weeks?

Yeah so by the, oh wait, yeah so I finished Uni, I was back home for about three months during which time I’d seen the doctor back home and during which time I stopped being on drugs. And then I moved to [another place].

So you saw different doctors at Uni, pretty much every time.

Yeah.

Was it there that they decided or you decided or together you decided that you didn’t want to take the drugs anymore. You felt that you didn’t really need to?

No, I think I decided that when I was at home. Yeah, I started coming off them when I was at home.

Yeah, so when you started coming off them did you talk with the GP about coming off them or?

Yeah. Yeah, I don’t think I, I was never on a dose high enough that you’d need to phase out but I knew that you couldn’t just stop taking them because that’s not good.

So you were at the Uni one and then did you have to re-register?

Yeah, so I’d been registered as a guest or as a visitor there when I’ve been at home in the holidays, but yeah I re-registered back at home.

Yeah, and how about the doctor in the village.

Yeah.

Were you seeing different doctors there as well?

No, same doctor every time.
If someone’s ill while they’re away from home or if they’re not registered with a doctor but need to see one, they can get emergency treatment from the local GP surgery for 14 days. After 14 days they’ll need to register as a temporary or permanent patient. They can be registered as a temporary patient for up to three months, as mentioned above. This lets them be on the local practice and still be a patient of their permanent GP. After three months they’ll have to re-register as a temporary patient or permanently register with that practice.

Registering as a temporary patient involves contacting the local practice. A surgery doesn’t have to accept anyone as a temporary patient, though they do have to offer emergency treatment. 

Vinay had lower back pain for several weeks when he was home from university over the summer holidays. It was confusing knowing which GP he should see and he travelled back and forth for several months between his home and university doctors. Like Winston, he felt that shared online medical records might have made it easier to sort out his problem.
 

The GP in Vinay’s home town felt he should see the university GP. The GP there told him his records were still at home. It took months to find out what was wrong.

The GP in Vinay’s home town felt he should see the university GP. The GP there told him his records were still at home. It took months to find out what was wrong.

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I think it was when I got to about June, July time last year and I started getting pain, which they diagnosed as being kidney stones. And I kind of wanted to get to the bottom of what that was at the time, figure out what it, what was causing the pain because I didn’t know, it was just, just pain. So to try and get some insight into it and also try and alleviate some of that, was the main reason why I went.

Was that around June-July last year?

So yeah, just after I finished my degree.

Degree, yeah. Were you back in your home town or still at the University City?

That’s where the difficulty was, is I had the, I had the issue from that point until I’d gone to Uni, so it was a mixture of both places, which made it difficult because what happened was neither GP practice was willing to help me as such because they were putting the issues on the other one. 

So they were like, “Oh you were resident in [at the university city] so that practice should handle it,” whereas the practice in [my university city] said, “Well you actually live in [name of home town], you should handle it there.” So I think for a long period of time, for months, nothing actually happened. And neither practice was willing to sort of do much.
If someone’s away from home and needs to see a GP about something that’s not urgent, they can go to the nearest walk-in centre.

It can be hard to know how to access medical care if someone’s going to study outside the UK. In these situations, it’s best to make enquiries though the university, online, and by asking students already there.
 

Paula planned to study in Argentina. She didn’t know how to register with a GP there but will ask family who live there when she moves.

Paula planned to study in Argentina. She didn’t know how to register with a GP there but will ask family who live there when she moves.

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I’m planning on going to study in Argentina. So I, yeah, so I will be moving out of the house.

And would you know how to register with a GP if you’re leaving?

No.

So how, would you find that out once you got there? Or --

Yeah.

what would you do?

I’d find out when I actually got there.

Would your parents go with you and kind of help you?

Well, I have lots, cos I’m from Argentina, so I have a lot of family who can help me there. Also my brother studies there as well. So he’s probably gone through all of this.

So there’s lots of people to ask for information?

Yeah.
 
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