Seeing the GP: Advice and tips for young people

Registering with a GP

Here people talk about:

•    registering with a GP
•    whether it’s possible to register with a specific GP
•    health checks
•    changing surgeries
•    temporary registration if away from home

Registering with a GP
Everyone has the right to register with a GP if they live within the ‘catchment area’ and if the surgery has space for new patients. The ‘catchment area’ is the area that the GP covers. People can simply contact the local surgery and ask to register with them. Registering involves completing a form called a GMS1. It’s a straightforward form which asks for a person’s:

•    name and address 
•    date of birth 
•    NHS number (if known) 
•    name and address of previous GP
•    ethnicity 
•    views on organ donation 

Some GP surgeries will also ask to see:

•    proof of (photo) identity, such as a passport
•    proof of address, such as a print-off of a recent mobile phone bill

Some people, such as visitors from abroad, may be asked to show their passport and visa to check that they’re entitled to full NHS treatment.

The GP surgery will send the form to the local NHS area team. A patient’s medical records will then be transferred to the new surgery. The process of registering is the same whether someone is a student or working.

Anyone over the age of 16 can register with a GP by themselves. People under 16 have to be registered by their parents or guardians, but it doesn’t have to be at the same surgery as them or the rest of the family. Aphra registered with a new GP when she went to university. She found the process quick and easy. Soon after moving back home again after university, she registered with her previous doctor. This was important to her because she’d had health problems before.
New university students are often given information about registering with a GP in their first week of term. Like Aphra, John found that registering was an easy and organised process. Nurses visited the university with the relevant forms, and new students didn’t have to visit the surgery unless they had a health problem.
Is it possible to register with a specific GP?
Generally patients are registered with the practice (surgery or health centre) rather than with a specific doctor. All patients are allocated a named GP. Some practices are keen that patients stick to their own doctor whenever possible, but some don’t mind who a patient sees. People who have a long-term condition are encouraged to form a relationship with one doctor.

If someone prefers to see a specific GP, the surgery can note this in their records. But they may have to wait longer to see their preferred doctor or see someone else if their preferred GP is unavailable.

Simon has arthritis and Crohn’s disease (a condition that causes inflammation of the digestive system or gut). It was important for him to have a GP that knew about these conditions and to see the same doctor whenever possible.
Health checks
When someone registers with a new surgery, they'll often be invited to make an appointment for a health check within six months. Health checks are usually done by the practice nurse, who will ask the patient about their personal and family medical history. The nurse will also ensure that any vaccines (injections) and tests they need are up-to-date, and do some checks such as measuring blood pressure.
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Changing surgeries
There may be many reasons why a person chooses to change practices and they’re entitled to do so. They don’t have to tell their existing surgery of their intention to change. Changing practices involves visiting the new surgery and asking to register as a patient with them. Again, no one has to explain their reasons for changing. They’ll need to complete a registration form and a request will then be made to their old practice to transfer their files.
People often change practices when they move to a new area. This can be hard for young people who are at a time in their life when they move around a lot. While this was quick and easy for Aphra, Winston had moved around several times in the same city and wished the process was easier:
Lucy had also moved within the same city but had put off registering with a GP. She hadn’t seen a doctor for about two years, though had used local mental health services. She’d got the registration forms a few times but had delayed registering for several reasons:
On one occasion, when John had moved back home for a while, his mum registered him with a GP and sorted out the paperwork. John moved again for a new job but was still registered at his previous surgery. He was usually healthy and well so rarely saw the GP:
Aphra felt that it was important to register as soon as she’d moved, even if she didn’t have any health problems, so she could see someone easily when she needed to. Sarah always made sure she was registered because she got the contraceptive pill from the GP. It’s a good idea to register with a doctor as soon as possible in a new area but young people felt the system didn’t always make this easy. It was tempting to put it ‘on the backburner’, as John said, given everything else going on in their lives.

There was a bit of confusion when Sarah registered with a practice when she was doing her PhD. One local surgery was for students and closed over the holidays, and the other one was for everyone else. She registered with the second surgery but was surprised when they moved her back to the student’s surgery:
Temporary registration
If someone wants to see a GP and is visiting an area for more than 24 hours but less than three months, they can apply to register with a surgery as a temporary resident using a form called a GMS3.

If a person plans to stay in the area for longer than three months, they can register with a local surgery permanently. Their NHS number will help with tracing their medical records as they move around.

When Sarah was home from university over the summer holidays, she needed to see the GP there. She’d been on antidepressants and felt more comfortable with the doctor at home than the one at university.
If someone’s ill while they’re away from home or if they’re not registered with a doctor but need to see one, they can get emergency treatment from the local GP surgery for 14 days. After 14 days they’ll need to register as a temporary or permanent patient. They can be registered as a temporary patient for up to three months, as mentioned above. This lets them be on the local practice and still be a patient of their permanent GP. After three months they’ll have to re-register as a temporary patient or permanently register with that practice.

Registering as a temporary patient involves contacting the local practice. A surgery doesn’t have to accept anyone as a temporary patient, though they do have to offer emergency treatment. 

Vinay had lower back pain for several weeks when he was home from university over the summer holidays. It was confusing knowing which GP he should see and he travelled back and forth for several months between his home and university doctors. Like Winston, he felt that shared online medical records might have made it easier to sort out his problem.
If someone’s away from home and needs to see a GP about something that’s not urgent, they can go to the nearest walk-in centre.

It can be hard to know how to access medical care if someone’s going to study outside the UK. In these situations, it’s best to make enquiries though the university, online, and by asking students already there.


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