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Your family doctor, also known as a general practitioner (GP) will be able to give you general medical advice and treatments.
After examination and diagnosis, they may give you a prescription for medication, send you to another primary care professional, such as your dentist, or refer you to a specialist for further assessments.
If you only have a minor ailment, it might be easier for you to call into your local pharmacist for advice.
Below is some useful advice regarding your GP.
Out of Hours Service
If you need urgent medical treatment outside of normal surgery times that would usually be provided by your GP, contact the number relevant to your area, available from the NI Direct website.
This Out of Hours Service would be available late at night, very early in the morning or at the weekend.
If your condition is potentially life threatening, please go to Accident and Emergency (A&E) immediately or telephone for an ambulance to take you there. Telephone 999 in an emergency.
Most GP practices have an appointment system and you have a right to request to see your ‘preferred’ doctor. There is usually a system allowing you to see a GP if your condition is serious but there are no available appointments. You may also be able to speak to a GP or member of the practice team by calling at an agreed time.
Preparing for your appointment
As appointment times with GPs are generally short (5 to 10 minutes), it is useful for you to prepare for the appointment:
- Think about the main reasons for your visit
- Concentrate on one health issue at a time
- Be clear about your symptoms – for example, what are they, when did they start and where
- Think about questions you would like answered
If you require special arrangements for an appointment – for example, a sign language interpreter – you should let the practice know before the appointment.
If you are too ill to visit your GP
For example, if you are terminally ill or unable to leave your bed, the doctor can give you advice over the phone or arrange a home visit.
If you wish to make a complaint about the care or service provided by your GP or practice, you should contact the practice and/or the NI Ombudsman to complain.
Registering with a GP
Residents of the Northern Ireland, including those from European Union member states, have the right to be registered with a GP. This is important for access to medical records and if an emergency home visit is required.
You can contact any local GP in the area where you live and ask to be registered. Check to see which are near to you at the Health and Social Care (HSC) website.
Some GP practices may ask for proof of identity, like a passport, and proof of your home address, like an electricity bill.
If you live outside the area which the surgery covers or the surgery has closed its patient list, your application may be refused. In such circumstances you should contact your local Trust to find a new GP.
When you register with a GP you are entitled to:
- A free health check on joining a doctor's list for the first time
- A free health check if you have not seen a doctor in the previous 3 years
- A yearly health check in your own home if you are over 75 years of age
- Be referred for a second opinion if both you and your doctor agree to this
- Obtain emergency medical care at any time through your doctor or the emergency ambulance service and any hospital accident and emergency department
If you are taking four or more medications, you should ask for regular reviews of your medication every six months or so. This can help to ensure that you are taking the most appropriate medication and optimum dose for your condition.
If you want to change your GP, you can do so by going to the new GP of your choice and asking to be registered. You do not have to give a reason for the change.
If you move permanently into a care home, your GP may continue to care for you. However, if the home is outside the GP’s area, you may have to register with a local GP. The care home should be able to advise you about which surgery to join.
If you are moving to a different address which is not too far away, you will be able to stay with your current GP as long as they are willing to treat or visit you at your new home.
Considerations when changing GP
If you want to join a new practice, you should consider such things as:
- Access issues such as wheelchair access
- Availability of male/female doctors/nurses
- How the appointments system works
- Opening hours and treatment outside surgery hours
GP practices should be able to provide such information as they must produce a leaflet explaining the full range of services available from their practice.
Finally, it should be noted, that a GP can ask you to leave their list and they do not have to give you a reason.
If you have doubts about the diagnosis of treatment that your GP has given you, you can ask him/her to refer you a different doctor, consultant or practice to get a second opinion. Although you are not legally entitled to a second opinion, it is rarely refused unless your family doctor has sufficient reason.
For further information on your GP services, visit the NI Direct website