Get the most out of your GP

A patient in a doctor

You’ll be lucky to get more than 10 minutes from an average GP appointment, so it’s as well to be prepared. Madeleine Bailey gets insider tips from GP Dr Mike Knapton, the BHF’s Associate Medical Director

What should I expect from my GP?

It goes without saying that your GP should be clinically competent, but he or she should always be polite, respectful and, above all, listen to your concerns, too. This is not only vital in tackling your problem, it’s an important part of developing a therapeutic relationship.

Your doctor should also take into account your medical history and carry out an examination if appropriate. If he or she can’t help directly, you’ll be referred to an expert who can – that’s why GPs should have a good knowledge of local health services including community nursing, mental health, occupational therapy and social services.

Your doctor should never be judgmental or discriminatory. This is stated in Good Medical Practice guidelines by the General Medical Council, with which all UK doctors must be registered.

How can I prepare for an appointment?

If you have more than one problem, book a double appointment if possible. Sometimes if a patient has more complex needs, the doctor may suggest you come back at end of surgery when he or she may be able to spare more time.

Think beforehand about what you want to say and write down important points.

Think beforehand about what you want to say and write down important points. For ongoing conditions such as angina, it can be helpful to keep a symptoms diary with a view to spotting triggers and devising a management plan. The British Heart Foundation produces My Progress Card, which is specially designed for this purpose for anyone with a heart condition. To order one visit our publications website.

If you don’t understand something, ask. There’s no such thing as a stupid question. Be honest about your lifestyle and whether you’ve taken your medication. The doctor can only work with the information you provide.

Is it ok to take information from the internet?

This can be helpful, but be cautious about which sites you use. In particular, beware of commercial sites that sell products – their information won’t be impartial. The most reliable information will be found on sites affiliated to health charities, university research departments, the NHS and government advisory bodies. Three top ones I recommend to my patients include:

British Heart Foundation

NHS Choices

NHS Evidence

If you want to do your own research, ask your GP to recommend some sites for your condition.

My GP doesn’t listen to me. What should I do?

Repeat your point again, starting with something like, “I don’t think I’ve made myself clear.” Don’t be aggressive – it’ll just make him or her defensive. If your GP still  isn’t listening, make an appointment with another doctor in your practice. It’s important to have good communication with your GP, so if this is a regular occurrence, consider changing your doctor or your practice.

Am I entitled to a second opinion?

You don’t have a legal right to this but in reality it’s fairly easy to get a second opinion. Most practices now have more than one doctor so you could simply make an appointment to see someone else.

If it’s a specialist’s opinion you want, again you don’t have a legal right to be referred but your GP will follow clinical guidelines. For instance, to be referred to a weight loss surgeon, you need to have either a body mass index of 40 (or between 35 and 40 with a weight-related health condition such as high blood pressure) and have tried other weight loss methods without success. If a referral isn’t appropriate, your GP should explain why. It’s increasingly common to be referred to another GP in the surgery or a community-based GP with a specialist interest, rather than to the hospital.

How do I make a complaint?

If you have a concern about the practice, it’s best to raise this informally with your GP or practice manager as soon as possible.

If you have a concern about the practice, it’s best to raise this informally with your GP or practice manager as soon as possible. However, if this isn’t resolved, you can make a formal complaint as long as it’s within 12 months of the incident. All practices have a written complaints procedure, so ask for a copy at reception. Alternatively, you can complain direct to your primary care trust – all trusts have a designated complaints manager. For free, confidential advice, contact your local Patient Advice and Liaison Service or call NHS Direct on 0845 4647.

How do I change my practice?

You may want to do this for a number of reasons. You may have moved or another practice may offer more suitable opening hours or a more appropriate service for you.

You don’t have to tell your current practice that you’re leaving – just go along to the new practice of your choice and register. Take your medical card with you as this will make registration much quicker, but don’t worry if you can’t find it.

Do your research first. You can get a list of practices accepting new patients near you from your primary care trust (for details, visit or call NHS Direct on 0845 4647). If you’re online, check out each practice’s website. It’s also a good idea to go along in person first and ask for a copy of t practice’s Patient Charter, which states the services and standard of care patients should expect. If there’s space, they have to take you unless you live outside the boundaries. If not, they must explain why.

More useful information