Seeing the GP: Advice and tips for young people

Seeing the GP about sexual health

Here, people talk about:
•    where can young people find sexual health services and advice?
•    young people’s rights and confidentiality
•    young people’s experiences

Where can young people find sexual health services and advice?
Anyone with a concern about sexual health can see their GP, whether it’s about contraception, periods, STIs, pregnancy, cervical screening, or abortion. People can also speak to their doctor if they want to talk to someone about sex and sexuality. Sexual health services and advice are available from:

•    GPs 
•    pharmacies
•    contraception clinics (family planning clinics) 
•    sexual health clinics 
•    STI testing clinics 
•    genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinics  
•    young people's services (e.g. charities)
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Young people’s rights and confidentiality
When it comes to sexual health services, whether at a clinic or GP surgery, young people have the same rights as anyone else regardless of their age, sexuality, ethnic origin or gender.

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’s experiences
People often see the GP to get contraception. Emma usually went to get the contraceptive pill, while Aphra said she bought condoms when she was at university as she wasn’t in a serious relationship. Later, when she was, she went to the doctor and got the pill. She felt that sexual and mental health were young people’s biggest concerns when it came to their health:
Hannah recalled the first time she went to see the GP about going on the pill. She was 16, went on her own, and felt nervous. She now goes routinely every six months:
Sarah found it ‘awkward’ asking for the pill the first time she went to the GP but said it’s no problem now that she’s older. Although she’d moved home several times, she always registered with a GP quickly so she could get the pill. She once ran out and couldn’t get an appointment when she needed one, so always books an appointment straight after the last one:
Aphra, who was on antidepressants, talked about going on the pill with her GP in an ‘honest and open’ way. The GP told her that the pill could help stabilise her ‘highs and lows’. The doctor talked to Aphra about the different kinds of contraceptive pill that she could take but she said ‘it was my decision to go on the pill’. Aphra sees the GP every six months for a repeat prescription and the nurse usually checks her blood pressure. Hannah also went every six months. Sometimes she sees the GP and other times the nurse.
Like Aphra, Emma was always pleased with the contraceptive advice she’d been given by the GP. Both felt that the doctor told them about all the various options.  Siobhan was on the pill but would have liked to have had an implant instead. Her GP didn’t offer implants and the nearest sexual health clinic was only open 12-3pm on Tuesdays, when she was still at school:
Aphra lives in a village and felt that a lot of young people go to the GP for contraception if it’s easy to get to the practice (surgery or health centre). The nearest sexual health clinic to her is two bus rides away so hard to get to. For Hannah, though, it was quite easy to get to a clinic, and she’d been to see her GP and the family planning clinic about contraception.

Practice (surgery) nurses also help with contraception and sexual health services. Aphra and Sarah recalled seeing the nurse about the pill and Fran mentioned seeing the nurse for cervical screening (smear) tests and an STI test (test for sexually transmitted infections).
Some people said they prefer seeing a GP of their own gender when it comes to sexual health. Kim usually didn’t mind if it was about the pill as she felt ‘that is what they’re there for, you know, they’ve had this a million times’. But she would feel more comfortable with a female doctor or nurse if it was ‘invasive or anything like, or embarrassing in my eyes’. Although she’d rather be seen by a female GP, she believed that all doctors were ‘there to help’. Fran disliked seeing a male doctor about anything personal, like cervical screening (smear) tests and STI tests, and Siobhan said she specifically asked to speak to a female GP when she wanted to talk about the pill.
More young people talk about their experiences of sexual health here.

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