Make the most of your practice nurse
Long gone are the days when the GP was king of his (it was always a 'he') own little empire, and the nurse's job was strictly to follow his orders. These days, nurses are highly qualified professionals who work as fully fledged members of the practice team.
Do you know what your risk of having a heart attack or stroke is? Do you know if you need to take steps to cut your risk? Are you eligible for a mammogram? Do you need to have a cervical smear? Your nurse will be happy to give you a full health assessment, including a 'vascular check'. This check involves combining all sorts of factors, including blood pressure, cholesterol, family history, height and weight. These can be used to calculate your risk of heart attack or stroke, and the nurse can advise you accordingly.
Diet and lifestyle
Whether you want advice about losing weight, cutting your cholesterol or controlling your diabetes, the nurse can offer it all.
Chronic disease management
If you have a long-term condition like raised blood pressure, asthma or heart disease, you may find it's the nurse who carries out most of the day-to-day management of your symptoms. Your nurse can take your blood; check your blood pressure, urine (if you have diabetes) and lung function. She may well also work to a protocol which allows her to decide safely if you need a change in your medication. In some cases, she will also be able to write your prescription.
If you're going abroad (anywhere other than Western Europe, Australasia or the USA) it's always important to check if you need any travel immunisations. Most GPs, including me, leave all this to the practice nurses, who are the real experts! Your practice nurse will be able to tell you exactly what jabs you need, which you need boosters for and how long the protection will last. They will be able to give you the injections, and advise on (and often prescribe) any anti-malarial tablets you'll need. Do make your appointment six to eight weeks before you travel, to give the vaccines time to take effect.
Come October time, the practice nurse is rushed off his or her feet giving flu jabs to over-65s and other groups who qualify for this vaccination, including pregnant women and people with medical conditions like diabetes, heart disease and lung disease. However, he or she can also give you other regular injections once the GP has made the diagnosis and written the first prescription. These include vitamin injections for some deficiencies and hormone treatments.