Your guide to finding a general practitioner in the UK
If you’re seeking medical help in the UK, then you might be overwhelmed by the options and not know where to start. In this Pacific Prime UK guide, we will help you with the ins and outs of finding a general practitioner in the UK. We’ll take a look at everything from the conditions for seeing a general practitioner to how to get prescriptions in the UK, along with other important details you need to know.
Conditions for seeing a general practitioner in the UK
In the UK, doctors are referred to as general practitioners or GPs for short. They work in local doctor’s offices, commonly known as practices, with other doctors, nurses, practice managers, healthcare assistants and administrative staff. What’s more, they collaborate closely with other community services and healthcare professionals to improve healthcare.
Thanks to the National Health Services (NHS), doctors’ services are available free of charge to UK residents. Those who prefer to see a private doctor, on the other hand, will have to pay for their services. GPs in the UK handle most health complaints and are the first point of contact if you have a medical issue.
Additionally, they offer health education, provide advice on diet and smoking, give vaccinations and perform minor surgery. If a GP believes that you require further treatment, they’ll refer you to a hospital or specialist.
You can choose the GP practice you want to go to and switch practice whenever you want to. However, a practice may not allow you to register if you reside outside of its boundary area or if they are full. When it comes to surgery in the UK, you register with the practice instead of an individual doctor. Therefore, you may be seen by several doctors within the surgery, though you can request a particular doctor based on your preference.
To register with a GP practice, you will have to fill out a registration form. Once you register with a doctor, your medical records will be sent to the practice and you’ll usually be given an appointment for a basic medical check-up with a practice nurse.
While it’s common to schedule an appointment for most surgeries, walk-in sessions are also available. These “open-door” sessions are typically available in the morning and are open for just a couple of hours. You don’t need to be registered to visit these sessions with most practices, though the appointment may take longer since the doctor or nurse won’t have your medical records.
Information for non-residents and visitors
Unlike insurance, free access to the NHS doctor’s services is only available to UK residents. Visitors and non-residents from outside the European Union (EU), European Economic Area (EEA) and Switzerland can only receive certain services for free, such as emergencies or serious health problems.
You’ll need to secure private or travel insurance to avoid charges for most services unless you qualify for an exemption or are from a country that has a reciprocal healthcare agreement with the UK. Visitors from the EU, EEA and Switzerland must have a valid European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) to access services for free.
Non-residents and visitors won’t be able to register with a GP in the UK. However, they can visit a surgery during open hours for many illnesses without charges if they have the right insurance. Emergency treatment from doctors is available to non-residents for up to 14 days, after which they’ll have to register as a temporary resident with a practice for up to three months.
Conditions for seeing a specialist in the UK
There are several medical specialists in the UK, which are also referred to as consultants. If you wish to see a specialist doctor on the NHS, you’ll have to get a referral from your GP. Self-referrals are only accepted for accident and emergency (A&E) treatment and sexual health services.
You can visit a private specialist in the UK without a GP referral, though you’ll have to pay the entire cost. In any case, it’s still recommended to get a letter of referral from your GP. Most UK specialists are based in hospitals. If you’re referred to a specialist in the UK, you’ll be able to choose your consultant as well as the hospital where you’re seen. You can easily book an appointment online via the NHS e-Referral Service.
Additionally, you can use the NHS search function to look for a specialist in the UK by name, speciality or location.
It is worth noting that longer waiting times are common for people needing treatment through the NHS, which is why UK residents often opt for private health insurance plans despite having access to free treatment.
How to find a doctor in the UK
Aside from personal recommendations, you can find a doctor in the UK by searching for GP services by location via the NHS website or through a location-based search via directories such as Yellow Pages. The NHS search allows you to compare surgeries in your location of choice by recommendation score, user rating, number of registered patients and whether it provides online services such as online appointment booking and electronic prescriptions.
Booking a doctor’s appointment
If you don’t like the thought of waiting around for a long time at the walk-in sessions, then booking a doctor’s appointment is the way to go. You can book an appointment over the phone or by visiting the surgery. Most doctor’s offices in the UK offer an online booking service.
Whether you can book an appointment for the same day or have to wait for a few days depends on how busy the doctor’s office is. While you might not be assigned to the same doctor for each visit, you are legally allowed to ask for a particular doctor or nurse.
Attending a doctor’s appointment in the UK
Once you arrive at the doctor’s office, head to the reception to let them know you have arrived or show them your appointment card if you have one. You may be asked to confirm your address as well. Doctors’ appointments in the UK often run over time, so be prepared to wait past your appointment time. If you have to leave before meeting with the doctor, be sure to inform reception so they can schedule another appointment.
During your appointment, the doctor will likely make any necessary diagnoses, offer advice and make prescriptions or referrals if necessary. The doctor will also let you know if you need to have a follow-up appointment. Be sure to confirm any details with the receptionist before leaving the office.
How much does it cost to see a doctor or specialist in the UK?
If you’re a UK resident then you can visit a specialist or doctor in the UK free of charge. The only services that you have to pay for are dentists and opticians. The government covers the cost of other NHS services through the annual health budget. The British Medical Association (BMA) has decided on fee rates to charge the government for specialist and GP consultations.
If work isn’t performed on the NHS, such as if the patient chooses private care or is not eligible for NHS treatment, then the doctors’ costs are passed onto patients or insurers. Doctors’ fees in the UK vary among individual specialists and GPs.
Getting insurance for private healthcare in the UK
For those who want to secure private healthcare in the UK, there are many private health insurance companies to choose from. Some of the most popular expat-friendly insurers operating in the UK include Allianz Care, Bupa Global and Cigna Global. Premiums will typically depend on your policy type, coverage and pre-existing conditions.
Choosing a health insurance plan can be difficult with so many options available to expats in the UK. Fortunately, Pacific Prime UK is here to help with all that and more. Whether you’re looking for family health insurance or individual health insurance in the UK, working with an insurance broker such as Pacific Prime will help you find the right plan for your needs and budget.
Contact us for obligation-free advice or a plan comparison today. You can also take a look at our blog for informative articles like “An Overview of the UK’s Healthcare System” or download our State of Health Insurance in the UK 2019-2020 report to learn more.
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