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How to choose the right GP for you
If you've recently moved or have decided to change GPs for another reason, it's important to get registered as soon as possible. Before you make your selection, it's worth taking the time to check out different GP practices to find the one that best meets your needs.
There are many things to consider when choosing a GP but taking the time to do some research and consider your options can help you to make the right decision.
Why make a change?
Patients are permitted to change GPs for any reason. It may be something you choose to do because of personal preferences, or after hearing about a specific service offered at a different GP practice. You may also decide to move GPs because the location is more convenient - close to your child's school, or near to your place of work.
Is a change necessary?
It's worth knowing that, even if you move areas, you might be able to stay with your current GP.
As GPs are no longer required to focus on a strict catchment area, they may be willing to accept you as a patient even if you have moved. If this is something you wish to explore, you need to check with the practice whether they are happy with this and you may need to re-register. It's also important to remember that if you are likely to need home visits, this may not be possible if your GP is too far away.
If your move is temporary, it may be better to register as a temporary resident with a local GP, while staying registered with your current GP. You can register as a temporary resident for up to three months.
Why else do people change?
Sometimes a bad experience or a personality clash can cause people to want to change their GP. This may sometimes mean gravitating towards a different doctor within the same practice, but some patients prefer to change GP practice altogether.
"Some people may have just had a bad experience and feel they have lost confidence," explains GP Dr Jeff Foster.
Having a good patient-doctor relationship is an important part of receiving medical care. "At heart a GP is the only medical specialist that looks after a patient as a whole. We care for patients before they are born, through childhood, adulthood, and as they decline and reach the end of their lives. We are often the last doctor to see a patient alive," explains Foster.
"We know our patients, and we are our patients' advocates. This has multiple benefits including the ability of a patient to feel they can open up to us about issues they may never tell anyone else. 90% of all clinical interactions occur in primary care so it is essential patients feel they can open up to us. This can be in the form of disclosing abuse, mental health, personal issues such as erectile dysfunction or just to allay the fears of normal life and to be someone to listen to when no one else will.
"It also means that we know our patients and when something is wrong we can often pick up on the subtle signs that would otherwise be missed."
Can a doctor remove a patient?
As well as patients choosing to switch doctors, sometimes doctors will decide to remove a patient from their list. "When there is deemed to be an irreversible breakdown in the doctor/patient relationship - for example, because a patient is abusive towards staff - the practice may remove a patient from their list. If patients repeat this behaviour amongst all local practices, those patients are forced to attend specific designated 'secure' units for their care," explains Foster.
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Finding a practice
To view the details of practices within a certain postcode, check out the NHS's Services Near You facility, which will list practices within an area. Through this service you will be able to check opening hours, the specific services offered and other important information.
It's also worth talking to family or friends with experience of a certain practice, who may be able to offer advice or recommendations based on personal experience. "People often hear about a good practice in their area and may want to join based on specific doctors who work there," agrees Foster.
What should I look for?
Your reasons for choosing a certain GP may be different due to your personal preferences or medical needs. However, it's worth checking the following to find a practice that ticks the right boxes for you.
As GP surgeries can be very busy, you will generally register with a practice rather than an individual GP, due to demand. But some practices offer a 'personal doctor' policy where you register with a GP and can only see them if on their list.
This could be worth looking into if forming a close relationship with a personal GP is particularly important for you - for example, if you have ongoing health needs. However, do remember that you may have to wait longer to see a particular GP - if rapid access is your priority, you may prefer a practice which allows you to book with the next doctor available.
Think about how you might travel to the practice. If you rely on public transport, is it close to a bus or train route? If you drive, think about where you might park. If you have specific access needs - for example, if you have limited mobility or are in a wheelchair - you may need to check whether there are dedicated parking spaces, ramps and other facilities.
What are the opening hours offered? Do they suit your usual routine? Some GPs may offer evening or early morning appointments which could be a useful factor for those working full-time.
When the COVID-19 pandemic started, all practices were required to screen their patients first through telephone, video or online form submission before seeing them face to face. You may prefer a practice which needs you to submit an online form about your symptoms first - you won't need to wait for a receptionist to be available to answer the phone. Or you may prefer to speak to a receptionist.
Many GPs now offer online booking - for example, with Patient Access. In future (pandemic permitting) it may be possible to book face-to-face appointments directly, but currently many practices allow you to book video or telephone appointments online.
Some practices may allow patients to email their GP directly. If you'd be interested in accessing your GP in this way, it's worth checking out what online services your GP offers.
Special interests and services
While all GPs are qualified to treat and diagnose a wide variety of illnesses, and make referrals to specialists where necessary, some GPs develop a 'special interest' in a particular area - for example, dermatology, women's health or diabetes. This means that alongside their existing knowledge, they will have accumulated additional expertise about their area of interest.
If you suffer from a particular complaint - for example, a skin issue that may need regular treatment - it's worth checking out whether there's a doctor with a special interest in this area.
In addition, some practices may offer services that others don't. "Some practices may offer additional services such as family planning, coil fitting, or minor ops - this influences a patient's decision," says Foster.
GPs and gender
Some patients may feel more comfortable seeing a doctor of a certain gender. If you are someone who has personal reasons for this, it's worth checking out whether there are doctors of your preferred gender at a practice.
Whilst all GP practices are required to treat patients equally under the Equality Act, if you are LGBTQ+ it may be important to you that your practice has a visibly LGBTQ+ friendly approach, has support groups or has GPs who are especially knowledgeable about issues specific to your community. It's worth speaking to friends, doing some online research and speaking to the practice if you have specific requirements.
How to change GP practice
Once you have made a decision, you will then need to contact the practice and fill in a registration form with your NHS and personal details, and information about your previous doctor so that medical records can be requested.
Often the registration can be carried out via email or over the phone, but if you can make a visit, it can be useful way to gauge additional information such as whether the practice feels friendly and welcoming. This likely won't be possible during the pandemic as GP practices have restrictions on who can come in, to keep patients and staff safe.
What if my registration is refused?
Some GP surgeries may be unable to accept your registration for a number of reasons. If the practice has no capacity or feels your needs would be better met elsewhere - perhaps due to specific services you use or your location - they have the right to refuse your registration. If this happens, the practice should share their reasons with you.