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Seeing the GP: Advice and tips for young people

Who should book the GP appointment?

All GP surgeries work slightly differently in terms of their opening hours and the types of appointments they offer. It’s best to get in touch with the surgery or look at their website to see how a particular surgery works. Most offer appointment booking over the phone, in person and, increasingly, online. How long it can take to get an appointment can vary. If the problem is urgent, the GP should see the patient as soon as possible. There may be a longer wait if someone wishes to see a specific doctor in a group practice (surgery), or for appointment slots outside normal working hours. 

Anyone can book an appointment with a GP if they feel able to do so. They don’t have to be over 16 and all consultations (appointments) are confidential (private). Appointments with the GP are confidential regardless of a person’s age. Doctors and nurses have very strict rules on confidentiality so that everything a patient tells them, their personal details and medical records are kept completely private. However, a GP might encourage a patient to tell others (like a parent) about the problem, or they can speak to them on the patient’s behalf if they’d prefer. This is because sometimes it’s important for those looking after a person to know what’s going on as they might be able to help or support them. The doctor might encourage a young person to tell their parent or guardian, but should respect a patient’s wishes if they don’t want to. If a patient is under 16 and doesn’t want to involve their parents, the doctor can treat them without telling their parents as long as the young person fully understands the choices they’re making. In exceptional cases, though, like when a health professional thinks a young person might be in serious danger, they may need to pass information to police or social services. Even then they must talk to the person first before they tell anyone else, unless that would put someone at risk of harm. 

Young people who were still at school often said that a parent, usually their mum, made the GP appointment if they needed one. Lara, for example, said that her mum was usually the first person she spoke to if she had a health problem. For Kyle it was his dad or grandmother that usually made the appointments and one of them went with him to see the doctor. Like several other people, Kyle said he wouldn’t mind making his own appointments if he had to.
 

Kyle saw the GP with his grandmother but talked to the doctor himself. It’s not ‘daunting’ making appointments and he could easily do it again next time.

Kyle saw the GP with his grandmother but talked to the doctor himself. It’s not ‘daunting’ making appointments and he could easily do it again next time.

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So most of your appointments, are they during school time or after or before? 

No. I've only had one before school. Mostly I'm always after school or in the holidays or something. 

So after school would be four o'clock or evening time? 

Yeah, whenever someone can take me. 

Yeah. And then another time you went with your grandmother did you? 

Yeah. 

So who made the appointment? 

My grandma made the appointment, yeah. 

And then she took you there. Did she speak to the doctor or did you speak to the doctor or a bit of both? 

Well, my grandma didn’t really understand like what was wrong with me. I didn’t really explain it, I just told her where it hurt. So I just told the doctor where it hurt because it was my back from high jump right. So, yeah, the doctor just like felt around and then told me to breathe in and out and then he's like, "You don’t have any broken ribs," which I knew already. 

And when you’ve been to the doctors you said, once your dad told you what to say and then you made the appointment yourself. 

Mm 

Have you made appointments before as well or was that the first time? 

That was the first time. 

Would you feel comfortable to make it again? 

Yeah, yeah, because it's not as daunting talking to them over the phone, you know, you don’t really care how they look at you…well they can't look at you. 

So when you make an appointment, you don’t mind, you say you don’t mind making it in. Would you prefer to make it or would you prefer it if someone else made it? 

It doesn’t really make a difference to me as long as the job's done, yeah. 
Some younger people, like Rowan, occasionally made their own appointments, depending on how busy their mum or dad was. Ambeya’s mum was often ill so her dad usually made appointments for Ambeya and her two younger brothers when they were younger. After the age of 16, she made them herself. When Winston went into foster care at the age of 15, he started making his own appointments and going to see the GP by himself. Shane had made his own appointments for quite a while – his mum was a single, working mum so he’d phone the GP himself whenever he needed to, while Simon – who had two long-term conditions – started booking appointments himself around the age of 12. He wanted to be in charge of looking after his own health:
 

Making his own appointments gave Simon a sense of control over his care. He’d speak to the doctor and ask questions, and the GP spoke to him rather than his parents.

Making his own appointments gave Simon a sense of control over his care. He’d speak to the doctor and ask questions, and the GP spoke to him rather than his parents.

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Was it mainly your parents who would ring the doctors or the GP, or would you actually do any of the ringing at that point?

When I was, pardon me, under ten, I didn’t really do anything. It was when I got to eleven, twelve and started to go to high school that I started to get in touch, you know, so that I could speak to them.

At eleven, twelve?

Yeah.

That’s quite young?

Yeah, I wanted to because I’d had it for so long. You realise that you have to grow up quickly and, you know, you start to take control of your own illness. It helped me to have that control. And when I went to the doctors, I would speak to them, ask them questions and they talked back to me, which is really nice because sometimes you do see it’s always talking to parents and that young person still has a really important voice to share. So that’s what I did and that’s why I tried to help other people, you know, to learn the skills to do it and it is hard. But it did help that I had that support from the GP.
 
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