GPs look after the health of people in their local community and deal with a whole range of health problems. They also provide health education, offer advice on smoking and diet, run clinics, give vaccinations and carry out simple surgical operations.
GPs usually work in practices as part of a team, which includes nurses, healthcare assistants, practice managers, receptionists and other staff. Practices also work closely with other healthcare professionals, such as health visitors, midwives, and social services. You would normally see GPs or other healthcare professionals at their premises (surgery). Some operate from more than one building. If your GP cannot deal with a problem then you’ll usually be referred to a hospital for tests, treatment, or to see a consultant with specialist knowledge.
GP practices should make information about their services easily available to their patients. Most practices have a practice leaflet available, otherwise please ask for one.
Finding the right GP practice
You can register with a GP practice of your choice, as long as you live within its catchment area and it is accepting new patients. Visits to the surgery are free.
Researching your options can help you find the right GP practice. Read the section aboutchoosing a GP practice for tips and advice or compare local GP practices according to facilities, services, access and performance before you decide. Ask friends, relatives and others you trust for their thoughts and recommendations.
You can also download a copy of It's your practice – a patient guide to GP services (PDF, 1.9Mb) which is produced by the Royal College of General Practitioners to help you choose – and get the most from – a GP practice.
If you are having problems registering with a nearby doctor then please contact your local primary care trust (PCT).
How to register with a GP practice
When you have found a practice you like, you’ll have to formally register with it as an NHS patient by submitting a registration form to them. The GMS1 form (PDF, 71Kb) is available in the practice or you can download it from this site.
Forms may vary slightly. Usually, PCTs order them for their practices centrally, but some practices use their own version.
When you have completed and returned the form, your local PCT will transfer your medical records to your new practice and write to you to confirm your registration as a patient with that practice.
Parents or guardians can register a baby at a practice by completing and presenting form FP58 (PDF 34Kb), which is issued at the same time as a birth certificate.
A practice cannot refuse you unless it has reasonable grounds for doing so. These must not relate to race, gender, social class, age, religion, sexual orientation, appearance, disability, or a medical condition. It must also give you reasons for its decision in writing. However, you may be refused if you are living outside the practice’s catchment area or the practice is generally not accepting new patients at the time because its list is closed. Find out if your local GP practice is currently accepting new patients.
You can register with a GP practice as a temporary resident under certain circumstances – when you are in an area for more than 24 hours but less than three months. See information below 'What if I am ill while I'm away from home?'
Booking an appointment
There are no set rules for this. However, your practice should be able to offer you an appointment to see a GP or other healthcare professional quickly if necessary. You can normally see any doctor within your practice. This is quite normal, especially if you need an appointment quickly. However, if it is more convenient, you should also be able to book appointments in advance. It is important to keep your appointment, or notify the practice if you have to cancel or change it. Read the section about GP appointments for more detailed advice.
You can also visit an NHS walk-in centre (WiC) or GP-led health centre. These can provide treatment for minor injuries or illnesses such as cuts, bruises and rashes. NHS WiCs treat around 3 million patients a year and have proved to be a successful complementary service to traditional GP and A&E services. Some NHS WiCs offer access to doctors as well as nurses. However, they are not designed for treating long-term conditions or immediately life-threatening problems. You don't need to be registered and you don't need an appointment. Any member of the public can simply walk in to be seen regardless of where they are registered. Some offer pre-booked appointments.
How to complain
If you disagree with the way your GP wants to treat your health problem, or you're unhappy about the service provided by your GP practice, tell them openly. However, if you feel unable to do so or you're unhappy with the response you receive, you may wish to make a complaint.
All GP practices have a written complaints procedure. You will find this at the reception or on the practice website. As a first step, speak to the practice manager. You can also complain to the practice in writing or by email. If this doesn't resolve the problem, or you'd rather not raise the issue directly with the practice, you can complain to the local primary care trust (PCT).
Read about the NHS complaints procedure.
You can rate and comment about your GP practice on this site. Let others know what you think of your GP practice. Type your postcode into the red box, select your surgery and click to add your comment. You can rate hospitals too.
There are several reasons why you may need to find a new practice such as:
you have moved into a new area,
you have moved outside the catchment area of your current practice,
there is a problem with your relationship with your current practice, or
your current practice has taken steps to remove you from its list.
You have the right to change practice without giving a reason, but it is helpful if you notify the practice that you are leaving. You can approach another practice and apply to join its list of patients. When you are accepted by a new practice, your medical records will be transferred across.