Getting an appointment with a doctor shouldn’t be a problem.
But, for some, booking an appointment with a GP can seem nigh on impossible.
Especially with Covid getting in the way of many peoples’ healthcare needs recently, the process of booking a doctor’s appointment can be pretty confusing.
This is made even worse by the fact that many GP surgeries have different booking processes and requirements.
These days, even if you do manage to get through to the GP receptionist in an acceptable amount of time, you’ll likely be met with an appointment weeks later. What if you’re in pain, worried about what it could be, or unable to continue with your usual day-to-day routine?
To help you make a doctor’s appointment and know what your options are if you can’t, we’ve put together this super useful guide to how to book a GP appointment in the UK.
So, here’s what you need to know when booking an appointment with a GP…
You can make a doctor’s appointment at your local GP either by phoning the surgery and speaking directly to a receptionist, or going to the health centre in person.
Usually, whether you call the GP or visit in person, the receptionist will ask you what your symptoms are and why you need to book a doctor’s appointment. Once you’ve outlined your symptoms, the receptionist should ask whether you mind seeing either a male or female doctor.
Once all these initial questions are out of the way, it’s time to find an available GP appointment. The receptionist will usually look for the next available appointment and ask you if that’s suitable. If it is, then great! If not, they might ask when is best for you. If there are certain times or days of the week that you’re more likely to be able to make, then let them know.
When you’ve finally managed to find a doctor’s appointment that works for you both, you should make a note of it somewhere safe so you don’t forget. Then, all you have to do is turn up at the right time, on the right day.
To offer more available appointments, many GP surgeries use practice nurses to help patients who want an urgent or same-day appointment. The nurse will assess your symptoms and concerns, and then agree with you how your needs might best be met, either by giving telephone advice or a face-to-face appointment. The nurse will aim to ensure that you are referred to the right person at the right time, whether that be the GP, a nurse, or someone else in the team.
Note that, when booking a doctor’s appointment, it’s important to make sure your registered address is up-to-date. Usually, when you book a GP appointment, the receptionist will ask for your address to prove your identity.
Thus, if you’ve forgotten to complete your NHS change of address, the address you give won’t match that on their system and it may be more difficult for you to get an appointment.
Nowadays, most GP surgeries offer online booking services to patients and, since April 2015, all GPs must provide patients with online access to their medical records.
This means that you can book and cancel your doctor’s appointments online any time of the day, order a repeat prescription from home, or look up their medications online.
Booking a GP appointment online means that you don’t have to sit on the phone listening to hold music for what seems like hours. Instead, you can simply log into your online doctor’s portal, see which appointments are available and book one.
When booking a doctor’s appointment online, you should be able to see the relevant doctor’s name next to each time slot. This is a much more efficient method of making an appointment with a doctor and relieves you of having to sit around waiting when you don’t feel at your best.
With the emergence of the dreaded Coronavirus pandemic, we’ve all been trying to stay at home as much as possible. However, we still need to fulfil our basic health needs. Even with a global pandemic disrupting normal life, many people still require medications or need medical support for something.
If you think you might have Covid, do not attend your GP surgery, pharmacy or hospital. You should self-isolate and book a test online.
The ways you’re seen by a doctor these days have changed slightly since the pandemic. Now, you might be offered a doctor’s appointment via:
We know that booking an appointment with a GP can take up much of your precious time, but how long exactly does it take?
Well, the average wait time for a routine GP appointment in the UK has risen above two weeks, according to an annual survey of doctors by Pulse. The poll found that the average waiting time was almost 15 days.
More than one in five of the 901 GPs who responded said the wait for a routine appointment exceeded three weeks, while more than one in 20 said it was even more than four weeks.
NHS England’s own patient survey also found that people were finding it increasingly difficult to get a GP appointment.
So, why do you have to wait so long to make a doctor’s appointment?
The core issue is the shortage of GPs. As more GPs retire or leave their jobs, more pressure is put on the GPs who are left. The increased workload for the remaining GPs then causes them to be burned out, causing them to also leave.
Another reason is that GPs have no incentive to see more patients. A GP is paid based on the number of patients they have on their books, not on the number of consultations they do. This means that it doesn’t matter if the doctor never sees you, they get paid either way. From their perspective, why would they want to increase their already heavy workload by making it easier for you to book an appointment.
Finally, GPs are very aware that most conditions go away on their own. This is the reason you normally get given an appointment a few weeks away. They know that by the time 3 weeks have gone by, your backache will have died down, your sore throat is gone, and your migraine has cleared.
If you are registered with a GP surgery, you can use their online services to book, check or cancel your doctor’s appointments. Alternatively, you can cancel your appointment by giving your GP practice a call.
Next time you visit your GP, check that your contact details are up-to-date so that they can send you text or email reminders for your appointments. That way, you won’t forget and miss them.
It’s important that you do cancel your doctor’s appointment if you can’t make it. According to GP leaders, missed doctor’s appointments are contributing to increased waiting times and could be contributing to more people with minor illnesses going to local A&E departments for treatment.
In fact, missed GP and practice nurse appointments are estimated to cost the NHS around £160 million per year. Aside from the cost, remembering to cancel an appointment you no longer need will free it up for someone else who may need it urgently.
All patients across England can now access GP appointments in the evening and at weekends. This extended access means that patients will be able to see a doctor, nurse or other member of the practice team at a time more convenient to them.
As well as offering convenience and choice to patients, these extended GP hours will help reduce some of the pressure on doctors surgeries, hopefully reducing the waiting time to book an appointment.
To book a GP appointment on an evening or at the weekend, simply follow the same process as when booking appointments during normal times. You can do so either online, by phone or by visiting the surgery in person.
Find out more NHS change of address guides here.
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