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Seeing the GP: Advice and tips for young people

Waiting time: for an appointment and in the surgery waiting room

There’s no set time within which patients should be given an appointment to see the GP. Whether someone phones in or books an appointment in person, they might not get one very quickly because the surgery is busy. Lucy and Winston often got appointments at a time that was convenient for them. For Emma, though, it was common to wait over a week for a non-urgent appointment.
 

Emma’s surgery has a good system but waiting for an appointment puts her off seeing the GP. The symptoms might have gone by then and she’d never know why she had them.

Emma’s surgery has a good system but waiting for an appointment puts her off seeing the GP. The symptoms might have gone by then and she’d never know why she had them.

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I think it differs for surgeries for sure. And I think the particular one I’m at, they do have a system. I think, I think it’s a really good system. They have kind of immediate, kind of emergency appointments that once you call up, if you call up in a certain time, then you get a call back from a GP or someone or a nurse to ask kind of a bit more about what’s going on. 

And then if they believe that it is something you need immediate help with, they have set appointments during the day, like that day. So, you know, if there was an emergency, but not an emergency that you need to go to the hospital, then, you know, they have a good system. 

And then yet on the flip side, you know, if it’s not that serious or immediate or whatever, then, you know... I think anything over a week to me is a little bit of a nuisance because you wanna, I think because it does play on your mind whatever you’re gonna be wanting to seen, be seen about. And so the longer that goes on for, well, for a while like, whatever you’re going to be seen about might have gone by that point [laughs]. But then also I think it’s just a, yeah, a bit of a nuisance that you have to then factor in another week or whatever.

And do you think, as a young person, does it ever deter you from going, thinking, “Oh, I don’t wanna wait a week, I don’t wanna wait two weeks”?

It does actually, now I think about it. Just because, as I said, I mean I don’t really, I don’t really think about going to the GP a lot. You know, it’s not like, “Oh, God, you know, yeah, I’m feeling really run down. I’m going to go to the GP.” That’s just not my attitude. 

And, you know, if it, even if it were, I think, you know, that length of time, it would kind of put me off. Cos it’s just like, well, by the time I even see the GP my symptoms or whatever’s going on won’t be at their peak. And they’ll just kind of fob me off with, you know, “Yeah, go and take some paracetamol” or something. Which, you know, I then would feel was a waste of their time. Which is not the best. So it’s hard to strike the balance I think.
Young people waited different lengths of time to get an appointment, depending on how busy their local practice (surgery) was, and people had very different perceptions of what was a short or long wait. The surgery Ambeya was registered with was often so busy that she wouldn’t get an appointment for three or four weeks. If she wanted to see the doctor that day, she said she’d have to say that it’s an emergency. These days she preferred looking up her symptoms online and getting a natural remedy than seeing the GP. Ambeya pointed out that long waits to see a GP can be inefficient for the NHS if it forces people to go to Accident and Emergency (A&E) instead.
 

Ambeya felt she had to exaggerate if she wanted to be seen by or speak to a GP over the phone, otherwise the illness might have gone by the time she got an appointment.

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Ambeya felt she had to exaggerate if she wanted to be seen by or speak to a GP over the phone, otherwise the illness might have gone by the time she got an appointment.

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If you want to see a doctor on the day it's called an emergency appointment. And if you want to see just a doctor, you have to wait for like a week…You have wait a week or two, which is pointless because in two weeks' time your illness will probably go, and you'll never know what the reason was, or what the cause was. 

So now, if I wanted to call the doctor, I would have to say, "Oh I'd like an emergency appointment" just so that I could get seen on that day, or even get spoken to by the doctor on that day, because I'm pretty sure…because when I've…that’s the time when I first realised the system changed when they were like to me, "Oh if you want an appointment you have to wait two weeks." And I was like, "OK how do I get seen today?" They go like, "Well it needs to be an emergency." So now I just exaggerate just to speak to the doctor. 

You think you'll be able to do that and get to see them on the day?

Well I think so. If I want to see the doctor, I would definitely say it's an emergency appointment just so that I can have a doctor ring me, even though I don’t like having to do it on the phone, it's better than waiting two weeks.

How does that make you feel like when you think you have to wait two weeks to get seen?

Well it just forces me to like go to A&E or something. I don’t really want to go to A&E and wait there for five hours just waiting there, and they say something like, "Oh it's nothing serious." So yeah, it's just the fact that knowing that I've got to wait two weeks forces me to go to the A&E or something which is something I really don’t want to do.
Jalé did her best to get appointments either before school or in the afternoon if she finished early. Lots of people preferred not to miss lessons if they were at school, college or university but it wasn’t always possible to get an appointment at these times. Ish found it hard to take time off to see the GP now that he was working, particularly as appointments often ran late. He, like other people, wished that his local surgery had longer opening hours or opened at the weekends as well.
 

It’s hard to switch shifts with people at work because of a doctor’s appointment. It would be easier if surgeries stayed open until 7 or 8pm.

It’s hard to switch shifts with people at work because of a doctor’s appointment. It would be easier if surgeries stayed open until 7 or 8pm.

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If I would have to go and see a GP, I would have to look at my own schedule first to see when I’m off or when I have time because when I’m at work, most of the time I work from eight till five or six. So that’s totally out of their range most of the times. I have to see when I’m off. Then I have to call them to see if they have a free time slot. If they don’t, then I have to basically just go into my office and just like try to find a time slot where I can switch with someone. 

I might not be able to switch, just cos of these things cos they have their own personal life too. So they might not want to switch. So it’s just like you’re sacrificing a lot of your own time also and you’re, if you’re going to be doing this every two weeks at your work, they’re not really going to look at it as like, ‘Oh, you’re really reliable.’ Like, you can’t even go to the doctor or something like that. 

It’s just like, I don’t know it seems a little bit awkward every time something’s wrong you have to go in and just like move everything around. It just gets frustrating.

Mm. Yeah. So what are the opening hours like at your local GP?

I think it’s from eight till five, yeah. It’s eight till five.

And what do you think about those opening hours?

Well to be honest, like I don’t think a lot of people are going to go in. So they should have more doctors covering so they can stay open later a little bit. 

Not a lot of people are going to go in. Most of the people that are going to go in during like twelve o’clock, probably going to be little kids and moms. So they should seriously think about just moving the time slot a little bit, to like, seven or eight o’clock. You know, that’s a little bit more flexible for everyone I think.
Ish felt that appointments were available at a time that suited GPs more than patients, while Siobhan noted that it was often hard to get an appointment time that suited her – she was revising for exams, applying for university, looking for a job, and doing voluntary work.
 

Siobhan needs an appointment before she goes on holiday but getting one when she’s free is hard. If the surgery was open longer, she could see the GP and get all her jobs done.

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Siobhan needs an appointment before she goes on holiday but getting one when she’s free is hard. If the surgery was open longer, she could see the GP and get all her jobs done.

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Most of the time if you needed to see your GP, even if you have to wait a bit --

[mhm]

-- you could go and see the GP?

Yeah, most of the time.

What’s the longest time you’ve ever had to wait to get an appointment?

I’m still waiting for one [laughs]. After the woman on the online CBT said probably four weeks ago I need to get one, I’ve just not been able to get one. Cos I’ve not been off school, and I’ve been here on work experience or volunteering.

So four, it’s taking four weeks or more than four weeks?

Yeah, just to find an appointment that I can make. Cos I go on holiday in a few weeks, so I need an appointment before that to make sure I’ve got a stock of tablets for two weeks.

So actually finding it open --

Yeah.

-- at a time that you’re not at school?

Yeah, or like working or whatever. Cos I’m looking for a job as well at the minute. So obviously I’ve got, I’ve like put time in my afternoon or my evenings to look for that.

So really it would be really handy if your surgery was open till 8 in the evenings or something?

Yeah.

Or even 9?

Yeah.

That would make quite a big difference, wouldn’t it?

Yeah, cos like I can still do everything I need to do that day, but then I can make sure that I’m looking after myself as well. Not just going a hundred mile an hour like I normally do.
Auberon was on an enhanced care plan. He’d been in hospital and under the care of a psychiatrist because of severe mental health issues. These included depression and self-harm. His care plan meant that he should be seen by a GP on the day he wants an appointment. That didn’t always happen, though, and the longest he had to wait was three days. 

Waiting in the surgery waiting room
At the surgery patients check in with a receptionist or on a touchscreen, and wait until it’s their turn to see the GP. If a surgery’s very busy or there have been lots of emergencies, appointments might be running late. For Paula it was common to wait half an hour to see the GP. Rowan also waited a while but said a screen in the waiting room told patients who was before them and how long they could expect to wait. This wasn’t everyone’s experience, though. Emma, for example, wished that receptionists or the monitor would tell patients how long they might have to wait and why. She found that ‘not being given an explanation I think is the most frustrating part’.
 
Having waited a long time to see the GP, Jalé sometimes felt ‘brushed off’ if the appointment then felt short and rushed. She once waited around two hours because of emergencies:
 

Jalé was given very little explanation about the long wait. It seemed ironic to be told by the receptionist to be as quick as she could with the GP.

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Jalé was given very little explanation about the long wait. It seemed ironic to be told by the receptionist to be as quick as she could with the GP.

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There's only been one really long wait that I can actually remember, and that was I actually sat…I must have sat for an hour and a half, if not two hours. And there'd apparently been five emergency calls that morning. And they were very low staffed because I think it was either near Christmas or just after the New Year. And so they obviously weren't in the, you know, doctors were on holiday and stuff. And I remember that there was a woman, and she had twins and one of them had a cold, so he was absolutely screaming like there was no tomorrow. 

And so she, you know this woman next to her went up and she said, "You know how many more have I got in front of me?" The woman said, "You’ve got two or three." I can't remember what she said. I think she said two in front of you. And she said, "Right, well I can't wait any longer, you know, I have to go." 

So she left, and then that left somebody else, myself and the lady with the twins. So, not long after the lady with the twins went up. She said you know, "How many more in front of me?" And she said, "Two or three?" 

So I went, I said, "Am I the lady in front of this one?" And she said yes. I said, "Well can you swap us please because clearly this lady needs to leave; she needs to be seen and she needs to go." And they said, "Yeah, that’s fine." So she did that and the woman was like obviously very thankful and stuff. 

So she went in, then she came out, and so I waited for myself. And then somebody else went in, and I was so, I was like ‘‘huh’’ you know, I'm meant to be next. 

And apparently another emergency call had just come from nowhere. And I thought, 'OK obviously I don’t need to know anyone's life story or anything but, you know, it would have been nice to have been told that, you know this doctor has to urgently see someone, please wait.' But I was just left to sit there. 

So that person was in there for a good twenty minutes/half an hour, so I sat even longer, and then was told, "OK well we're a bit behind today so please be as quick as possible." And we all just kind of carried on. I thought, 'I've sat here for two hours. I did my thing as a good citizen and let the woman go in front of me who needed to. And then just suddenly another woman just came out of nowhere, and she just walked in and went straight into the doctors. And I've been sat here for two hours with my friends taking pictures on Snapchat. It's a bit crazy.' 

And it would have just been nice to at least know that somebody else had to come in urgently, and I was like…I wouldn’t have been happy about it; it wouldn’t make it any better, but it meant I would have known. And then there was just like, "Oh yeah well we're running really late, so please be as quick as possible." Like, I've been sat here for two hours. I think whatever I need to talk about needs to be spoken about [laughs].
Cancelling and missing appointments
Patients are responsible for cancelling any appointments they’re unable to attend in reasonable time so that someone else can benefit from the appointment slot.
 

Appointments usually run late so Ish turns up 10 minutes late. He missed an appointment once. The next one was 2 weeks later.

Appointments usually run late so Ish turns up 10 minutes late. He missed an appointment once. The next one was 2 weeks later.

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I kind of realised that their schedule kind of works like mine is. So when they say three o’clock, I just show up at 3.15 to be honest. Then I have to wait about another ten minutes. So if you wait about twenty, thirty minutes, that’s the normal thing I guess. So now I just show up late because I know that’s going to happen every time. So it became that predictable that you’re gonna have to wait no matter what.

Has it ever been a problem that you showed up late? Have you ever missed an appointment? 

Yeah, I did. Then they just like straight up told me. I was, I think I was one or two minutes late and they said, “Oh, we gave your slot to someone else. You should have been here five minutes before.” And why should I be there five minutes before if you’re late all of the time? It’s like once in a while you’re actually on time. Like, congratulations, do you want a cookie for it or something. So, yeah.

So what happened then? Did you get rescheduled for another appointment?

I did, but I think it was two weeks away from the original one. So they’re not going to make it as soon as possible and put you like, you know, like it’s London and you missed the tube or something like that. No, it’s just, “Yeah, you missed it. Well sucks to you. Here, you’ll get an appointment in two or three weeks and that’s it. You’re just going to have to deal with it.” 
What to do when local surgery GPs are unavailable
Sometimes all the GPs in the surgery are booked when a patient wants an appointment. There are several options in these situations, including out-of-hours services and going to the nearest walk-in centre if there is one.
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