Seeing the GP: Advice and tips for young people

Bad experiences of a GP consultation

Although people told us about many positive experiences of good GP care, some also talked about disappointing appointments when things didn’t go so well. Problems included:

•    lack of information, explanation, and involvement in deciding what to do
•    wrong diagnosis or long time to get referred to a specialist
•    rushed appointments
•    poor relationship with the GP
•    seeing different GPs almost every appointment
•    lack of knowledge of mental health
•    not being listened to or taken seriously

Lack of information, explanation, and involvement in deciding what to do

When Emma was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, the GP sent her to hospital straight away. Although she was diagnosed quickly, Emma felt shocked – she didn’t know what type 1 diabetes was or how it could affect the rest of her life. She would have liked more information from the doctor who diagnosed her but ended up asking her dad many of the questions she had because he was also a GP. Emma felt that her own doctor should have made sure she was okay after giving her news of ‘a life changing event’. She had no idea she’d be on insulin for the rest of her life.
Jalé, who was also living with a long-term condition (hypothyroidism), would have liked more information when she was first diagnosed too. Hypothyroidism is when the thyroid produces less thyroid hormone than it should, which causes the metabolism to run too slow. She sometimes felt that she was only taken seriously if she used medical terminology, and took a book with her when she went to see the doctor. She did a lot of reading before the appointment and had highlighted all the symptoms in the book that she’d been having. Sarah felt disappointed when she saw a GP about her mental health. She felt that the doctor gave her very little information about the various antidepressants that Sarah could consider taking in the future and didn’t discuss the other options available (see below).
Simon, who has juvenile arthritis and Crohn’s, felt that some GPs were a bit sarcastic when he used medical terms or when he seemed to know more about his condition than they did. His regular GP was very good, but when that doctor was busy he would see others who often gave ‘short, abrupt explanations with no clarification’.

Susan wished that the GPs she’d seen had given her more information about preventing fungal toe infections. She kept getting them and saw different doctors four or five times until she ‘just kind of gave up with it and put up with it for a long time’. She felt frustrated that the creams she used didn’t work and would have liked to have been told at the first appointment that, for severe, ongoing infections, tablets would have been more effective and that fungal infections can take some time to go completely.
Wrong diagnosis or long time to get referred to a specialist
When Aaron hurt his wrist playing football, his usual GP was away so he saw another. This doctor told Aaron that he’d sprained his wrist and would be fine. Aaron saw the GP three times because the wrist pain was getting worse but felt that nothing was being done. He then saw another doctor when he moved home to go to university. An x-ray showed that he had a fracture:
Winston saw two GPs and a nurse about a crooked (misaligned) toe, which he was told was a birth defect. Although it wasn’t serious and didn’t affect his health in any way, Winston felt self-conscious especially when changing after playing sports. He’d read online that people with similar problems had had surgery. He believed that the GP would refer (send) him to a specialist who could treat him, but never heard anything again.
Rushed appointments

Lack of time and feeling rushed in appointments was a common worry. Young people said it could take them a while to feel comfortable and find the words to say what was troubling them. Shane saw a GP about his mental health and went back the next day and saw another doctor. The second GP prescribed him antidepressants after reading the notes from the day before. Shane recalled that this appointment felt very rushed.
Sarah also felt rushed when she first spoke to a doctor about depression. She’d read about different antidepressants that patients can be prescribed but felt that these options weren’t discussed with her. The GP gave her a prescription but Sarah decided not to use it. Later, when she felt much worse, she saw another doctor who prescribed her a different medication.
Peter recalled that his GP was ‘quite sympathetic...but also quite brisk because they’ve got to get through quite a few people. And so it was sort of a whistle stop appointment almost. We got in there and then she just said what we needed to do and we left again quite quickly. So, for a long wait, it was a relatively short appointment.’ Peter didn’t mind because he was referred to hospital but felt that other people might have liked a longer appointment, more reassurance, and the feeling that they were being helped: ‘if it's just short and they don’t really care, then you feel a bit discarded’.

Poor relationship with the GP

It can be difficult to create a good relationship with the GP when people are regularly seeing different doctors or if they’ve had negative experiences in the past. Ish felt that it was hard to find a good GP and recalled going to the doctors’ four times with flu-like symptoms. The GP was reluctant to give him antibiotics but didn’t explain why. Ish felt that the symptoms he had should have been treated and that they’d caused him to have hearing loss in one ear. He felt that it was difficult to find a GP ‘that cares about you’ but that a good relationship with the doctor can help patients open up. He talks more openly to doctors he has a connection with.
Seeing different GPs almost every appointment

Ambeya felt that her experiences of GPs were good when she was younger but had changed over the years because she rarely saw the same doctor. She found it difficult to build a relationship with ‘a family doctor’ that saw everyone in her family, as she had done in the past, and this put her off seeing them. She also felt that GPs expected young people to take more responsibility for their own health when they turned 18.
Siobhan saw a few different GPs about mental health but would have preferred to see just one rather than having to repeat her story each time. It was hard having to talk again and again about self-harm.

Lack of knowledge of mental health

Auberon and Sophie felt that a lot of GPs knew little about mental health. Auberon was under the care of a psychiatrist and felt that his GP appointments were often rushed and he’d be advised to see his psychiatrist instead. At the age of 14, Nikki saw several GPs and found it hard to tell them in short appointments about how she’d been feeling. She’d been very depressed and was self-harming. A few doctors advised her to go for a walk or to exercise and she felt ‘pushed away’ and rejected. Later, when she told a school counsellor that she’d been hearing voices, she felt that she was taken seriously but only because doctors ‘care about particular buzzwords’.
Sophie felt that GPs often wanted to rush through appointments about mental health as if they were the same as physical health problems. Other people recalled how hard it was talking about very personal things to a doctor they hardly knew. Sophie saw a GP six or seven times and felt ‘turned away’ when she couldn’t express her thoughts and feelings. Aged 14, she found it hard to open up but felt that the GP should have ‘picked up’ that, if she kept coming back, something must be wrong. She felt that her words had been ‘falling on deaf ears’, an experience that put her off seeing doctors.
Like Sophie, Nikki also felt that it’s hard for young people to talk about mental health in short consultations. When the same person keeps going to the doctors’ about the same thing, though, the GP could ‘always assume there’s more behind the appointment’.
Seeing the same GP every time, someone a patient felt comfortable with, was also important. Shane felt like he’d been ‘passed around three different people’ but would have preferred to talk to the first doctor he saw, who he felt comfortable with. People’s main concerns were that:

•    mental health consultations were often dealt with in short appointments and felt rushed
•    it’s hard for young people to talk about mental health
•    it’s also hard for them to open up to a GP they hardly know
•    seeing the same GP is helpful
•    other kinds of consultations (e.g. by phone or online) can be useful for young people when it’s hard to open up

Doc Ready is designed to help young people prepare for their first appointment with a GP to talk about their mental health.
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Not being listened to or taken seriously

Although Isaac’s most recent consultation was good– the GP listened, explained, and referred him to hospital quickly when he had a mole on his arm – his experiences at a younger age when he’d gone with an adult had been less positive. He recalled having a consultation about hay fever when he was eight, which he went to with his grandmother.
Later, at an appointment about eczema, Isaac felt that the GP spoke and listened to his mum ‘in favour of’ him. He was given a prescription and felt that nothing had been explained to him. He also felt that, at 15, he was ‘still being ignored....my voice meant very little to a doctor in an appointment that was for me’.
Jalé saw different GPs several times before she was diagnosed with hypothyroidism. For a few months her symptoms were dismissed as stress related and she felt that the doctors didn’t take them seriously. Jalé discussed the same symptoms in four different appointments – stomach pains, being unable to sleep, and feeling depressed – and was given a pregnancy test each time. She wondered if the doctors would have asked her to take four pregnancy tests had she been older.

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