Even though you receive your HIV care from a specialist HIV clinic, it
is still important to have a general practitioner (GP, or family doctor)
for health needs that aren't related to HIV. GPs can offer useful advice about lifestyle
changes, such as maintaining a healthy weight, or giving up smoking. Many GPs
also offer services which may not be available at your HIV clinic, but
which you may need from time to time, such as health visiting for women who
have recently had a baby; support if you need nursing at home; mental health
services ; physiotherapy; and chiropody.
GPs are able to provide prescriptions for non-HIV medicines which your
clinic may be unable to supply for more than a couple of weeks. Also, GPs are
the only doctors who can make home visits if you are too ill to attend your HIV
clinic or your GP's surgery. If you are unwell outside normal working hours, or
at the weekend or bank holidays, all GPs have an emergency service through
which a nurse or doctor will offer advice and, if necessary, visit you at home.
If the problem is very serious and requires hospital care, they can arrange for
your admission into hospital and will normally be willing to speak to the
on-call HIV doctor at your clinic to arrange specialist HIV care if
To get access to a GP you must be registered as their patient. You can
only be registered with one GP and you must live within their
catchment area – the area the GP works in. When you register with a
GP you will be asked to give your name and address, your NHS number and details
of your last GP. Don't worry if you can't find your NHS number, you can still
register without it. A few weeks after you register with a GP you will receive
a card confirming your registration, which will have your NHS number on it.
Most HIV clinics keep a list of GPs, and may be able to recommend a GP
with experience of caring for people with HIV. However, GPs sometimes cannot
accept any more patients, as they already have the maximum number of people
they can offer services to. You could ask them to suggest another GP or you can
look at your local NHS website for details of GP practices in your area. If you
still have problems finding a GP who is able to register you, then contact your
local Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS).
GPs cannot refuse to register you because you have HIV or any other
medical condition, or because of your race, colour or sexuality. But it’s
also worth remembering that many GPs, particularly those with practices outside
cities and big towns, may have a very limited knowledge of HIV and will have
seen very few HIV-positive patients.
At present, you can register with a GP whatever your immigration status.
But there can be practical problems with registering in some situations. You
can find out more about how to deal with these in the NAM booklet HIV, GPs & other primary care.
If you need a GP when you are away from home, then you can register as a
‘temporary resident' if you will be within their practice area for 14 days or
All NHS services
provided by your GP will be free. GPs also provide some other services for a
fee, such as signing passport applications. Most GPs have an appointment
system, and sometimes it can be difficult to find an available appointment
slot. Emergency appointments will usually be available for people who need to
be seen quickly. These are normally available the same day, but on a ‘first
come, first served' basis.
You aren’t obliged to tell your GP that you have HIV. However, if you
don't disclose your HIV status to your GP, this may prevent you from receiving
the best care. For example, if you are taking HIV drugs, it's important to
consider potential interactions with other medications. Your GP medical records
are confidential, and nobody can see them without your consent. If you are
concerned about disclosing your status, explore whether staff at your HIV
treatment centre, or an advocate, could help you assess your GP's practice
around disclosure beforehand (for more information on talking to healthcare
professionals about your HIV status, see Telling
people you’re HIV positive – healthcare professionals).
Your HIV clinic will recommend that you register with a GP. This isn't
because they are trying to transfer your specialist HIV care to a GP to save
money. Your GP will not take over your HIV treatment and care. But having a GP
will mean that you can get routine health care that your HIV clinic can't
You can find out lots more about services offered by GPs, and by other
primary care services such as dentists, opticians and pharmacists, in the
booklet HIV, GPs & other primary care. The booklet also gives you some tips on how to get the most out
of primary care services.