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Using an NHS GP in Wales

This advice applies to Wales

About using a GP in Wales

Your local doctor is known as your GP (General Practitioner). Your GP can provide a wide range of services. This can include advice on health problems, physical examinations, diagnosing symptoms, prescribing medication or other treatment or referring you to specialist services.

On this page we tell you about your rights when you use your GP's services. This includes:

You can also find more information about your treatment within the NHS on Adviceguide and from the NHS itself.

Do you have a right to a GP

If you are usually resident in the UK you have the right to be registered with a GP. This includes people from other European Economic Area (EEA) countries and abroad.

If you need a GP while you are away from home in the UK, you can visit another practice. If you are away for longer than 24 hours, any GP can treat you as a temporary patient. It is a good idea to phone the surgery first to find out their arrangements. You can find details of GP surgeries in the area on the NHS Direct Wales website at: www.nhsdirect.wales.nhs.uk.

Alternatively, you can contact NHS Direct Wales by phone, where a Nurse Adviser may be able to help with your problem.

If you are going to be away from home for 3 months or more you should register with a GP at your new address as soon as possible.

For more information on NHS treatment for people from abroad, see NHS charges for people from abroad.

What you can expect from a GP

Each GP practice produces a leaflet outlining the services and care you can expect from them. The leaflet should include details of surgery times, and information on home visits and any specialist clinics they offer.

If your problem is not urgent, most practices aim to see you within two days. But waiting times may change depending on the size of the practice.

As well as giving you advice about health and illnesses, your GP might also provide:

  • contraceptive services
  • vaccinations
  • minor surgery
  • maternity services
  • travel vaccinations
  • specialised services for homeless people
  • sexual health services.

For more information about maternity services in the NHS, see What health care can I get on the NHS.

For information about sexual health services in the NHS, see What health care can I get on the NHS.

How to choose a GP

You can choose which GP practice you want to be registered with. The GP does not have to accept you, but if they refuse to accept you, they must have good reasons for doing so. They must give you their reasons in writing.

You can use the NHS Direct Wales Search for a GP page to find a GP in your area. It is available on the website at: www.nhsdirect.wales.nhs.uk.

You can find information about the services available in GP surgeries in your area on the My Local Health Service website at mylocalhealthservice.wales.gov.uk.

You can get further information about GP services from your local Business Services Centre. You can contact your Business Services Centre on these numbers, and ask for Contractor Services.

Business Services Centre - Mid and West Region (Swansea)
Telephone: 01792 458066

Business Services Centre - South East Region (Pontypool)
Telephone: 01495 332000

Business Services Centre - North Wales Region (Mold)
Telephone: 01352 700227

You can find more information about the Business Services Centre on their website at: www.bsc.wales.nhs.uk.

How to register with a GP

To register with a GP you should contact your chosen practice and ask to be included on their patient list. They will usually ask you to fill in a form at the surgery, or ask you for your NHS medical card. This is so that your medical records can be transferred there.

If you have lost your NHS medical card you should contact your Business Services Centre. They can arrange a replacement card for you. But you don't need a medical card to register with a GP or get NHS treatment.

Family members don't have to all register with the same GP.

If you are staying somewhere in the UK for less than three months, you can ask to be registered with a GP on a temporary basis. You can also register with a local practice temporarily if you move around the country and have no permanent home.

Unless the GP’s register is full, or you live too far away for home visits, it is unlikely that the GP will refuse to register you.

If a surgery wants to refuse to register you, it must have good reasons for doing so. These must not have anything to do with race, gender, social class, age, religion, sexual orientation, appearance, disability or medical condition.

If you think that the GP has refused to register you for any of these reasons, this may be discrimination.

NHS numbers and NHS medical cards

You will be given an NHS medical card when you first register with a GP. The card contains:

  • your NHS number
  • your GP's details
  • personal information such as your name, address and date of birth.

You will usually be asked for your NHS medical card when you register with a new GP. If you don't have one, you will be given a form to fill in. When you have completed and returned the form, your local health authority will transfer your medical records to your new GP. Your medical card will be posted to your home address.

Your NHS number is unique to you. It is used to identify you across different NHS organisations. NHS numbers help staff across the NHS get up-to-date information on patients' health.

If you have difficulty finding a GP

If you can’t find a GP to register with, your Business Services Centre should be able to help you to find a practice.

You should send:

  • your NHS medical card
  • details of any GPs who have refused to register you
  • details of any GPs you would prefer not to register with.

The Business Services Centre will try to find a GP who is prepared to accept you. This will not necessarily be a GP of your choice.

When the Business Services Centre has decided on a GP for you, the GP must accept you and treat you. The GP can only remove you from their list under certain circumstances.

Treatment from a GP

You are entitled to treatment from a GP at the surgery where you are registered. However, you don't have a right to insist to see a particular doctor.

In an emergency, a GP has to provide any treatment which is immediately necessary. They have to provide this even if you are not registered with them.

Things to think about when you visit your GP

When you visit your GP, it’s a good idea to go prepared with as much information as possible. This will help your GP to diagnose your condition as quickly and correctly as they can. It might be useful to keep a record of your symptoms, and take this with you. This might help your GP work out what might be causing your symptoms.

You might find it worrying to go to your GP, particularly if this is your first visit or you haven't been for a while. If you find visiting your GP stressful, you may want to write down any questions you have before your visit. You may also want to take notes or record the conversation with your GP so that you can listen to it later in the comfort of your home. It is a good idea to talk to your GP about this before your appointment.

If you would like further support, you may wish to take a friend or relative with you.

You can find more information on your health, and things you might want to think about when seeing a doctor, on the NHS Direct Wales website at: www.nhsdirect.wales.nhs.uk.

How to get treatment when the surgery is closed

Your GP must make sure that there is a service for you when they are off duty. This might be provided by:

  • other partners in a group practice
  • a rota between GPs
  • a commercial deputising service (a locum)
  • a telephone number which patients can use out of hours.

If you need a GP when your surgery is shut, you should telephone your surgery and listen to the recorded message. This will give you details of the out of hours service for your practice.

Your Local Health Board (LHB) is responsible for making sure that the out of hours service is good enough. If you are unhappy about the treatment you have received from the out of hours service, you should contact your Local Health Board.

If there is an emergency, you should dial 999 for an ambulance, or go to the Accident and Emergency department at your local hospital. You can find details of your local hospital on the NHS Direct Wales website at: www.nhsdirect.wales.nhs.uk.

Home visits from your GP

Your GP should have a practice leaflet which will tell you when they usually make home visits. You cannot insist that your GP visits you at home. Your GP will decide whether to visit you at home depending on your medical condition. They will also decide how urgently to visit you. If you feel that you need your GP to visit you at home, you should phone the surgery and explain your situation.

If your GP refuses to visit you at home and you then become seriously ill, you might want to make a complaint. Your GP might have been negligent, or they might have broken their contract with the NHS.

For more information on making a complaint about a GP, see NHS complaints in Wales.

If you are referred by your GP or hospital consultant, a community nurse might visit you at home. If your situation is not urgent, the nurse will make an appointment to come and visit you.

If you have recently had a baby, or you have just registered with the GP and have a child under the age of 5, a health visitor might visit you at home.

If you need medication

If your GP decides that you need medication, they will usually give you a prescription. You can take the prescription to a chemist who should be able to give you the medication. In some cases, for example, if the surgery is in an isolated area, your GP might give you the medication themselves.

Your GP must supply any drugs that are needed for treatment in an emergency.

For more information about prescriptions, see NHS charges and optical voucher values in Wales.

Will I be charged for using my GP's services?

There is no charge for basic GP treatment for NHS patients who live in the UK. There are charges for visitors from overseas, except in the case of an emergency. However, your GP might charge you for certain services, for example, check-ups for employees or vaccinations for travelling abroad.

For more information about GP charges, see NHS charges and optical voucher values in Wales.

Alternative therapies

Some GPs are qualified in alternative therapies and may offer these as part of their NHS treatment. In some areas GPs may be able to refer a client to alternative practitioners, but this will not always be available.

Getting a second opinion

You can ask your GP to arrange a second opinion either from a specialist or another GP. However, your GP doesn't have to do this if they don't think it is necessary.

If your GP refers you for a second opinion, you can't insist on seeing a particular doctor. However, they should not refer you to someone you don't want to see.

You don't have the right to a second opinion, but you do have the right to see a GP who is able to deal with your situation. If your GP refuses to arrange a second opinion, you might want to think about changing your GP.

If your GP is unsure about a diagnosis, they could be found negligent if they didn't refer you to a specialist and you suffered as a result. If you are in this situation, you might want to make a complaint.

For more information about making a complaint, see NHS complaints in Wales.

How to change your GP

If you decide that you want to change your GP, you don't have to give an explanation to your existing GP.

To change your GP, you should contact the surgery you want to change to, and ask if they will accept you as a patient. If they agree to take you on, you will need to give them your medical card or fill in a form. When you have registered with the new surgery, your medical records will be sent to them.

If you can’t find a GP to register with, your Business Services Centre should be able to help you find a different practice.

Can my GP remove me from their list of patients?

There are some reasons why your GP might have to take you off their list of patients. These include if you move out of the area covered by the practice, or if you have been verbally or physically abusive to people at the surgery.

You should normally receive a warning and explanation before this takes place. However, if you have been violent towards staff, your GP can take you off their list immediately.

If you have been removed from a GP’s list you might want to complain. For example, you might feel you have been treated unfairly or that discrimination was involved. You might be able to get help to complain from a Citizens Advice Bureau. To find details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by e-mail, click on nearest CAB.

For more information about making a complaint, see NHS complaints in Wales.

More information about discrimination in health and care

If you move out of your GP’s area

If you are changing address, but are not moving too far, you might want to stay with your existing GP. You should ask your GP if they can continue treating and visiting you at your new address.

Your GP can continue to treat you if you have moved out of their practice area, but they have to tell the Local Health Board that they are willing to continue visiting and treating you.

Further help

On Adviceguide

For more information on your rights and your NHS hospital care in Wales, see Using NHS hospital services in Wales.

For more information about your rights across NHS services in Wales, see NHS patients rights in Wales.

For more information about the healthcare available to you on the NHS, see What healthcare can I get on the NHS?

For more information about making a complaint about NHS care, see NHS complaints.

On NHS Direct Wales

You can find more information about NHS services in Wales on NHS Direct Wales at: www.nhsdirect.wales.nhs.uk.

The website gives you information about:

  • local medical services, including how to find your nearest dentist, GP, hospital or pharmacist
  • how to choose the best hospital or clinic for a particular treatment or procedure
  • common diseases and conditions such as diabetes, and guides to common procedures, such as hip replacements
  • how to make a complaint about an NHS service
  • how to lead a healthier life.

NHS Direct Wales also operate a non-emergency online enquiry service. Don’t use this service if you or someone else are feeling ill or experiencing symptoms – contact NHS Direct Wales or your GP. You can use the online enquiry service for questions about health. You can go online, enter your enquiry, and a skilled health information specialist will try to answer within 2 working days. They can answer enquiries about things like:

  • common conditions
  • local NHS services
  • patients' rights
  • healthy living.

The service is available in Welsh and English online at: www.nhsdirect.wales.nhs.uk.

You can also get confidential advice and information about health problems and services over the phone from NHS Direct Wales. It provides 24-hour access to free health advice from experienced nurses. The line is intended to help you care for yourself by advising on the next course of action, for example, whether to stay at home and what self-treatment to take, whether to visit a GP or a hospital.

The contact details for NHS Direct Wales are:

Telephone: 0845 46 47 (all calls charged at local rate)
Textphone on 0845 606 4647 or call through RNID Typetalk on 1 8001 0845 46 47.
Website: www.nhsdirect.wales.nhs.uk.

Local and national government information

The Welsh Government's Department of Health and Social Services is responsible for health services in Wales. You can find information about services and the latest health news and publications on the department’s website at: http://new.wales.gov.uk.

Local Health Boards (LHB) are now responsible for all health care services in their area. You can find out how to contact your LHB on the NHS Health in Wales website at:www.wales.nhs.uk.

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