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Making the most of your GP

Newly registered patients may be invited to come in for a health check within six months. This is typically with the practice nurse or healthcare assistant, who will ask about your personal and family medical history. You’ll need to decide whether you want to disclose your HIV status at this meeting (see Disclosing your HIV status to a GP). If you are taking regular medication, you will need to see a GP before your new practice makes any further prescriptions for this medication available. Your GP will not prescribe your anti-HIV drugs; you will continue to see your HIV clinic for these.

An adult, with parental responsibility, can register children under the age of 16. Young people over 16 years have to sign their own registration form. Registration on behalf of someone who lacks the capacity to register themselves can be done by someone with ‘lasting power of attorney’ for them. See www.adviceguide.org.uk for information about lasting power of attorney.

In between your regular HIV clinic appointments, you may want to seek medical advice if you notice changes in your health or new symptoms. HIV clinics vary slightly in what action they advise if you are concerned about your health. Ask your HIV clinic what they advise you to do.

Generally, symptoms or health changes will not be signs of a serious medical condition.

However, there are certain symptoms that may be related to HIV; you can look out for these and contact your GP or clinic if you experience them. These include:

  • prolonged fevers and sweats
  • swollen glands
  • significant, unintentional weight loss
  • changes in your vision
  • prolonged vomiting or diarrhoea
  • significant amounts of blood in your faeces or vomit
  • severe headaches
  • severe confusion, exhaustion or dizziness.

In some situations, you should take immediate action (by going to your nearest Accident & Emergency department), including if you have very severe stomach or chest pain, you are having difficulty breathing or you are thinking of harming or killing yourself.

Very rarely, some anti-HIV drugs can cause severe allergic reactions. If you have recently started a new HIV treatment regimen, and you develop certain symptoms (such as severe rash), you should contact your HIV clinic immediately, or A&E if your clinic is closed. Your clinic will explain what to look out for, and you can find out more in NAM’s booklet Anti-HIV drugs.

Being able to visit your GP can alleviate any concerns or problems with your health that may arise between HIV clinic appointments.

It’s a good idea to write down any symptoms or side-effects you’ve experienced, so you can mention them to your HIV doctor at your next regular HIV clinic appointment.

Managing GP appointments

The way appointment systems work varies hugely between GP practices. For example, you may need to phone at a certain time of the day, week or month to make an appointment. Some surgeries have online booking systems for future appointments. You may have to book regular appointments well in advance.

How long you have to wait for an appointment may be a factor you take into account when choosing your GP practice. You may have to wait longer to see a more popular doctor, if you would like to see the same doctor at each appointment, or if you would like an appointment outside working hours.

If you have an urgent health problem, a GP in your practice should see you as soon as possible. Many surgeries keep some appointments free for people who need to see a doctor urgently. Surgeries may ask you to ring at certain times for these, or they may have a system where you go to the surgery and wait. You may need to wait some time, especially at certain times of the week. It may not be possible to see the GP of your choice if you also want to be seen quickly. You may also be told you can only raise one issue at this appointment, and will need to make another appointment for anything else.

In some cases, you may be able to have a telephone consultation with a GP. For some health queries, it may be appropriate to see a practice nurse instead.

You can ask for a home visit, but a GP will only come to your home if they think your medical condition makes it necessary. They will also decide how urgently they need to come.

Ask reception staff about the booking systems when you register. It may also be helpful to know the days or times when particular GPs work if you have a preference about who you see. You may have to ask specifically if you would like to see the same doctor each time.

GP appointments are usually short – about ten minutes, although longer slots may be available for people with complex health issues. If you feel you will need more time with your GP, you can try asking for a double appointment when you book.

Being prepared for your appointment can help you and your GP get more out of the time you have.

  • Make a list of your symptoms and note down when they began, how long they have lasted and how severe they are. Is there anything that seems to make them better or worse, or are they worse at certain times?
  • Make a list of any questions you would like to ask your GP. In some situations, you might want to take someone with you to the appointment, as it can be hard to remember everything you’re told or would like to ask, especially if you are anxious. Remember to ask about any test results you’re expecting.
  • Make a list of medications you are taking (or bring them with you).
  • Be honest about the problem and anything that may be contributing to it, or that may prevent you following up any action you need to take.
  • Ask the doctor to repeat anything you don’t understand.

If you still have concerns about your health after seeing a GP, don’t be reluctant to book another appointment.

If you feel that your GP lacks knowledge about HIV, it may help to be open with them. By maintaining a relationship with your GP, you allow them to gain more experience and you contribute to improving the overall standard of care available to people with HIV.

Unlike at your HIV clinic, your GP practice won’t generally set regular appointments with you or run the same range of tests each time you go. It’s usually up to you to decide when you should consult your GP. Some exceptions to this are if you are being monitored regularly for a particular condition (for example, at a diabetes or asthma clinic), or because of medication or treatment you are on.

You will get the best service by being actively involved in looking after your health. Work with your GP by asking for advice about lifestyle changes and action you can take to stay as well as possible, and seek advice early if you are concerned about symptoms.

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.