Ethnicity Online

Cultural Awareness in Healthcare

Patient Information: Registering With A Doctor

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2. Registering with a doctor

Why do I need to see a doctor first?

Almost all access to healthcare in this country is mediated by doctors known as General Practitioners (or GPs), who have many years of training in general medicine, and so will be able to diagnose many minor health problems.

If you have a health problem, visit your GP, who might prescribe medicine or refer you to another professional.

If your doctor refers you to a consultant at the local hospital, you will attend either as an outpatient (you go in for an appointment and/or tests, and then leave again afterwards) or an inpatient (you will be admitted to hospital to stay on a ward). A consultant is a doctor who has specialist medical knowledge.

The professional you are referred to may work in the community, such as a midwife or a health visitor. You might see these specialists at the doctor's clinic, or they may be able to call on you at home.

Why do I need to be registered with a doctor?

As well as diagnosing illness, your doctor is concerned with keeping you healthy. If you have children, they will be given immunisation injections through their doctor (or school). Your doctor will arrange for a pregnant woman to have scans in hospital to make sure the baby is healthy, and liaise with the midwife to make arrangements for the birth.

Many doctors have nurses, midwives, community health nurses, physiotherapists and other professionals working with them, so you will be able to access many other services through your doctor directly.

Doctors provide many services to keep you and your family healthy, such as:

  • Advice on treatments
  • Health checks
  • Examinations (one-off examinations and regular ones such as smear tests)
  • Referral to other services
  • Family planning advice
  • Pregnancy, birth and baby clinics and services
  • Prescriptions
  • Child health checks (post-natal health)
  • Immunisations and vaccines
  • Health promotion and screening

All UK residents have a right to register with a doctor and to access free health services. You do not have to pay anything to make an appointment or to see your doctor.

How do I find a doctor near me?

Most cities and towns have many doctors working in them. Even some villages have their own doctors' surgery. It is recommended that you register with a local doctor, so that they do not have to travel too far to visit you in an emergency.

  • A good way of finding a doctor is to ask people you know in your local area for the name of their GP. This also allows you to ask people about the services the surgery offers and any other questions you may have.

  • If you cannot find a local doctor in this way, then you can ask the NHS for help. You can phone a service called NHS Direct on this number 0845 46 47. The service has recently started working with interpreters, so you will be able to talk to someone in your own language and ask them who your local doctor is.

  • If you have access to the Internet, you could do a search for your nearest doctor on this NHS web page. This site also contains the answers to some of your questions, such as arranging for your doctor to visit you at home and how to see a doctor in an emergency. Unfortunately, this site is so far available in English only.

How do I register with a doctor?

  • Find a surgery (usually the one that is closest to you).

  • Go in, or phone them, and ask a receptionist about registering with a doctor at that surgery.

Some surgeries may not be able to take more patients – many doctors have too many patients to look after. However, a surgery cannot refuse to accept you on the basis of your skin colour, race or religion.

If the surgery cannot take any more new patients, they may be able to recommend another surgery.

  • If the surgery can take you as one of their patients, you be asked to fill in a form with some details {such as your age, date of birth (also known as DOB), your home address, and any health problems you already know about}.

  • You will also need an NHS medical card. If you do not have one, the receptionist will give you a form to fill in to get your own card. This card is needed if you ever change doctors (it is linked to the medical notes that doctors make about your health).

  • If you do not have an NHS card, see the next document in this series (Your NHS medical card).

The page below is produced by the British Medical Association, an organisation that supports doctors, and provides more information about registering with a doctor, and how to get the best out of your relationship with them.

BMA 'Registering with a Doctor' link

How do I change to a new doctor?

Sometimes you may not be happy with your doctor, or you may have moved to a new area. In either case, you are entitled to register with a new doctor when you find one.

Simply go into the new surgery and ask them if it is possible to transfer to their surgery. If they have enough room to take a new patient, they will ask you to fill in a registration form.

If you have an NHS medical card, take this with you. The new doctor will need to know the NHS number that is on your card so that they can see any previous notes on your medical treatment and health.