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Finding and choosing a GP

Friends, family, local HIV organisations, your HIV clinic or other people with HIV living locally might be good starting points for finding out about GP practices. There are also a number of services available to help you find and register with a GP. See Getting more information.

Visit your local NHS website and enter your postcode in the Health services near you section. You will need to contact the practice to find out if you are in its catchment area.

If you live in a catchment area, and the practice is accepting new patients, you have the right to register with it.

If you prefer to see a GP outside your local area (for example, one near where you work), you can visit an NHS walk-in centre or GP-led health centre.

GP-led health centres

These new health centres are currently opening across England. They offer routine GP services from 8am to 8pm, 365 days a year, either on a walk-in basis or by booking an appointment. You can either register with the health centre, or stay registered with your own GP but use this centre when it’s more convenient.

You can find your nearest GP-led health centre in the service finder of your NHS website.

Assessing a GP practice

To ensure the GP you choose is right for you, there are a few things you should consider.

  • Firstly, do you live within the catchment area for this particular GP? If not, you will not be allowed to register.
  • Where is the surgery? Will you be able to access it easily; for example, if you will be driving there, are there car parking spaces, including disabled spaces, outside? Are there public transport routes nearby?
  • Check the surgery opening hours. Do you need it to be open outside normal working hours and on which days?
  • How does the appointment system work? Can same-day appointments be made for urgent issues? How far in advance can you book an appointment with the doctor of your choice (if, for example, you’d like to see the same doctor at each appointment)? Are telephone or email consultations available? If you would like to see a doctor of a particular sex or ethnic background, can the practice provide this?
  • Does the practice offer the services you need? (See GP services.) Do any of the GPs have a particular interest in HIV or any other long-term condition of concern to you?
  • First impressions might influence your decision. Does the practice have a relaxed and organised atmosphere? Do the front desk staff appear polite, helpful and discreet? Does the practice seem accepting and non-discriminatory?
  • Personal recommendations from other patients may help you decide.

Phoning or visiting the practice in person can be a good way to assess it.

You can also find out how a practice has been rated by its patients, by visiting sites such as iWantGreatCare (see https://tht.iwantgreatcare.org, which encourages recommendations from people living with HIV) or your local NHS website (see Getting more information), and entering in the name or postcode of a practice. NHS websites provide detailed information on practices, including services offered by the practice, parking, appointment systems and information on their performance. Many GP practices also have their own websites.

Registering with a GP

Once you think you have found a practice you’ll feel comfortable with, the next step is to register with it.

Visit the practice and ask to register as a new patient. It may be worth phoning first to find out if the practice is currently accepting new patients and whether you need to bring any documentation with you. If it is not currently accepting new patients, find out when it will next be doing so and return on that date, or choose another surgery.

When you register, you will be required to fill out a simple registration form (GMS1). This can either be taken away to be filled out, or completed at the practice. You will need to provide:

  • Name and address.
  • Date of birth.
  • NHS number if you know it (not essential).
  • The name and address of your previous GP, if you know it.
  • Ethnicity (not essential).

You may also have to provide photo identification (for example, a passport or driving licence) and proof of your address (for example, a recent utility or council tax bill). Talk to the reception staff at the practice if you will have difficulties providing this paperwork. See Eligibility to access GP services and Overseas visitors and GPs below.

If you do not have a permanent address you may find it difficult to register permanently with a GP practice. You may only be able to register as a temporary patient. You do not need a permanent address to do this; you can use a ‘care of’ address, such as a friend or day centre. You can also use NHS walk-in centres.

If you have been refused registration, ask the surgery’s practice manager to explain why that has happened, and ask what you should do next. You may need to come back when the practice is accepting new patients. If you are unhappy about the reason for being refused or want to follow it up, ask for the reason for the refusal to be given to you in writing.

Overseas visitors and GPs

GPs can register new patients at their discretion, regardless of immigration or residency status. There is no obligation or expectation that they will check someone’s immigration status. There is no minimum period that you need to have been in the UK to be eligible.

The regulations covering healthcare arrangements for overseas visitors (which include people going through the immigration process, as well as people visiting the UK) say that charges only apply to services provided in a hospital. Primary care and other community services do not charge overseas visitors.

See Eligibility to access GP services for more information on accessing GP services.

However, there may be reasons why you find it difficult to register with a GP. A GP practice may ask for certain identity documents or proof of address, which you may not be able to provide. Your documents may be with the Home Office, or you may not have a permanent address. Or staff may have misunderstood the rules for providing primary care to people from overseas.

When you go to a GP practice to register, see if you can fill in a registration form with whatever documents you do have. This could be a letter from the Home Office or a photocopy of your passport. But a GP practice can register you even if you don’t have any documents.

It may help to ask to speak to the practice manager or to a doctor, and to explain the medical needs you have. You could try to encourage the practice to use the discretion it has to register patients. Your HIV doctor could write a letter explaining your medical need to access these GP services. If you are refused registration, ask to be given the reason for refusal in writing.

You may want to ask someone to help you with the process. A worker from an HIV support organisation may be able to provide advice or even come with you to help you register. The charity Doctors of the World UK has experience of helping migrants in London to register with GPs. See Getting more information for contact details.

While you are trying to register as a permanent patient, you can register as a temporary patient. You do not need a permanent address to do this; you can use a ‘care of’ address, such as a friend or day centre. You can also use NHS walk-in centres.

If you do experience difficulties it may help to contact your local primary care trust (PCT, in England), health board (in Scotland and Wales), or health and social care trust (in Northern Ireland). See Getting more information for details of how to find these organisations.

The situation in Northern Ireland is different to other parts of the UK. Here, you may find it harder or not possible to access primary care services. Talk to staff at your HIV clinic or an HIV support organisation about your options.

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.