Seeing the GP: Advice and tips for young people

Seeing the GP with a parent or alone

Here, people talk about:

•    going to the doctors’ with a parent or family member
•    when parents wait outside the room
•    going alone or with a friend

Going to the doctors’ with a parent or family member

Young people who were still at school often saw the GP (local doctor) with a parent, usually their mum. Lara, aged 14, said she’d always gone to the doctors’ with her mum, like her sister Paula who was 17. Peter also went to the surgery with his mum but wouldn’t mind if he had to go on his own. Gentian and Kyle were happy to go on their own, too, if they needed to, though Gentian felt that he might be a bit nervous the first time.
People who said they liked having a family member at the appointment said it felt supportive and ‘comforting’, and it helped having someone to think what questions to ask and remember what the doctor had said afterwards.

Paula and Hazzan recalled that their mums usually talked to the GP during the consultation (appointment) and they only spoke if they were asked a question. Kyle usually saw the GP with his dad or grandmother, whoever was free at the time, while Ambeya went to appointments with her dad when she was under 16 as her mum was ill. She sometimes found this hard and preferred going with her aunt:
Now that she’s over 16, Ambeya prefers seeing the GP on her own and felt that young people should be able to see the doctor alone at the age of 14. 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.
When parents wait in the waiting room

Occasionally Ambeya asked her dad to wait outside when she wanted to speak to the doctor by herself. Young people often felt that GPs could ask parents or guardians to wait outside or leave the room at the end of the consultation so they could speak to the doctor alone if they want to. In rural areas (like villages), it can be really important that young people can see the GP on their own as they don’t have the opportunity to register at a different surgery and will need a lift. Aphra pointed out that it can be difficult for teenagers who go to see the GP in a place where ‘everybody knows each other’.
Peter, like other people, felt that young patients might ‘dull it down’ when they’re talking to the GP in front of their parents in case they worry about them afterwards.
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Sophie, Aphra and Nikki, who saw the GP about mental health, also found it hard to speak to the doctor openly in front of their parents. Talking about mental health problems can be hard because it involves speaking about very personal feelings.
Nikki had mental health problems from a young age. She was bullied at school and had counselling. Whenever she saw the GP with a parent, though, it was hard to talk about her feelings and she often ‘talked a complete load of rubbish’.
Siobhan went to see the GP because of problems with eating, low mood and self-harm but, like Sophie, found it hard to talk about her feelings to a doctor she hardly knew. Siobhan’s brother, who she’s close to, encouraged her to see the doctor and went to a few of the appointments with her. He helped her ‘find the words’ when she couldn’t explain her feelings, though she went on her own later on:
Some parents started waiting outside the consultation room themselves when the young person had reached a certain age. When Lucy went to see the GP, her dad would drive her there and wait in the waiting room. Vinay recalled that, at a certain age, ‘it was just a given’ that his mum or dad would wait outside.
Susan’s mum made her go on her own to their local surgery, which got easier when she passed her driving test at 18. Before that, her mum would drive her there and wait outside. Hannah went on her own around the age of 16 when she wanted to get the contraceptive pill.
Going alone or with a friend

Sometimes young people preferred seeing the GP with a friend or by themselves rather than with a parent. Sophie, for example, found it hard talking about mental health in front of her parents but felt she might have found it easier going to the appointment with a friend. She went to the second appointment by herself. Jalé, who was living with a long-term health problem, sometimes saw the GP with her mum and stepdad, sometimes with a friend, and occasionally on her own.
Paula’s friend once asked her to go to the doctors with her. When they walked into the consultation room, though, the GP asked Paula to wait outside. When Jalé went to see her GP with a friend, though, the doctor asked Jalé if she was happy for her friend to stay in the room.

Isaac used to see the GP with his mum or grandmother when he was younger but now goes on his own. He recalled that the doctor often spoke to the adult rather than to him, which he found annoying.
Siobhan said that her mum ‘made’ her speak to the doctor when she used to take her to appointments. Simon, who’d been living with long-term health issues from a young age, felt it was important for young people to feel comfortable seeing the GP alone and being involved in their own care. He felt that parents could help prepare their children for this step. Ambeya felt that GPs themselves expected her to take more responsibility for her own health once she turned 18.
Simon and Ambeya felt that there was ‘a bit of a haze’ between the ages of 16 and 18 – young people weren’t always seen as adults but were often ready to see the GP by themselves.

Aaron felt comfortable seeing the GP by himself when he was at Uni as well as at a younger age. His friend’s mum was a receptionist at the surgery and often knew beforehand that he’d come in because of a sports injury.
Young people went to see the GP by themselves at different ages depending on whether a parent was free to go with them and if they felt comfortable doing so. Some couldn’t remember when they started going on their own while others, like Isaac, recalled that he first went by himself when his mum was ill and unable to go with him. Shane’s mum was a single, working mum so he usually went on his own. When Winston went into foster care, aged 15, he started seeing the GP by himself as well.

The consultation is private regardless of a person’s age.
The only time a doctor can speak to someone else about the patient without their permission is when the patient’s safety or someone else’s safety might be at risk. In these cases, they should tell the patient first if possible so that they know what’s going on.
 

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