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Eligibility to access GP services

GP services are provided free of charge to everyone in need of care. Your immigration status should not affect your ability to register with a GP. For more information, see Overseas visitors and GPs.

Registering as a permanent patient (more than three months). If you are planning to be in one area of the UK for more than three months, you can register as a permanent patient with a local GP. This will enable you to build a relationship with a GP practice, and allow the GP(s) to become familiar with you and any medical conditions you may have.

Registering as a temporary patient (less than three months). If you are visiting an area of the UK for less than three months, you are eligible to register with a GP as a temporary patient.

Urgent treatment without registering (up to 14 days). If you need to see a GP for urgent treatment, you can receive care without registering with the practice for a period of 14 days, after which you will need to register as a temporary patient. A GP should provide urgent treatment even if you have been refused permanent or temporary registration with the practice.

Eligibility to register as a permanent patient

While everyone is entitled to see a GP, there are a few conditions that affect which GP you can register with as a permanent patient. These conditions apply to everyone receiving primary care.

Do you live within the GP catchment area? The main condition when registering with a GP is that you must live within a GP’s catchment area. This is a defined location that surrounds every GP practice in the UK. Currently, GPs will only register patients who live within their catchment area. However, this requirement may change in the future. See Finding and choosing a GP.

Is the GP practice currently accepting new patients? GP practices do not accept new patients all the time. One of the most common reasons why someone will be unable to register at a particular GP practice is because its patient list is full. It can sometimes be difficult to find a GP practice that is accepting new patients.

Registration is at the discretion of the GP. A GP practice can refuse the registration of a patient, if it has reasonable grounds for doing so. If it decides to do this, the practice must notify you in writing, telling you the reason for refusal. Other than occasions where someone lives outside the catchment area for the practice, it is rare for this to happen.

It is important to remember that, under the Equality Act 2010, GPs are not allowed to refuse care to someone on the basis of disability (which includes HIV), race, sex, age, religion or belief, sexual orientation, gender reassignment, pregnancy or maternity.

If you are having problems registering with a GP, or feel you have been discriminated against, then you can complain to the GP practice in question. See What to do if you’re unhappy about your GP practice for more information.

If a GP practice has refused to register you, they are still required to provide any urgently needed treatment and care for up to 14 days.

HIV, GPs & other primary care

Published October 2012

Last reviewed October 2012

Next review October 2014

Contact NAM to find out more about the scientific research and information used to produce this booklet.

This content was checked for accuracy at the time it was written. It may have been superseded by more recent developments. NAM recommends checking whether this is the most current information when making decisions that may affect your health.