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Health & Insurance

General Practitioners in the UK

In many places around the globe, the family doctor is a medical professional of particular importance. More often than not, this is the first person to turn to for medical assistance. The same is true for the UK. However, the responsibilities of a general practitioner in the UK go well beyond that.

The general practitioner is without a doubt the single most important provider of healthcare services in the lives of UK residents. Your neighborhood GP practice is your first stop for nearly anything related to medical services, an astounding range of which can be administered right on the spot. Your GP usually also is the person to refer you to a hospital or specialized doctor if needed.

What is even more important, you need to be registered with a GP practice in order to be eligible for any NHS services at all. Thus, finding and registering with a suitable practice should be among the first administrative tasks to tackle upon arrival in the UK.

Finding the Right Doctor for You

Generally speaking, you have the freedom of choice when it comes to GP practices. This freedom is somewhat restricted by the fact that practices are only obligated to accept you as a patient as long as you live within the area they service. Other GPs might already be overburdened and not accept any new patients at all.

Luckily, NHS England has set up a search engine for medical services in your vicinity, so you should not have too much of a hard time finding a suitable GP. Similar tools or address lists exist for ScotlandWales, and Northern Ireland. Of course, you can also have a look at the local telephone directory.

However, you should keep in mind that you should not base your decision on location alone: ask your new coworkers or neighbors for their opinion. Furthermore, you should check whether or not your GP of choice actually offers the services you are looking for (see below). Additional factors that might come into play are the opening hours of the practice, whether it is a long way round from your way to work, or simply whether you like the practitioner.

Signing Up: A Necessity

As we have mentioned above, your registration with a local GP practice is possibly the most crucial step when it comes to healthcare matters in the UK. It is the only way for expat newcomers to actually register with the NHS and benefit from their comprehensive healthcare services.

While the details of your registration process might vary from practice to practice, the information you have to provide will be the same as on this example form. You might also be asked to show your passport and visa, although this is not mentioned on the form. Best to bring them along in any case!

Once you have signed up, you will be issued your personal NHS number. Medical staff across the UK can use it to access your health records. Within a few months from the date of registration, you might be asked in for a health check. This includes questions about your personal medical history and that of your family, as well as a number of tests such as checking your blood pressure. If you are not content with your GP or have any other reason for wanting to change doctors, you have the right to do so. It is not necessary to tell your practice about your intentions; you will, however, have to sign up again at your new practice.

My GP: What Do They Do?

Your GP is a highly skilled professional knowledgeable and experienced in a variety of fields. These may include ophthalmology, dermatology, reproductive health, diagnosis of acute medical and surgical problems, and more. Some practitioners may also have specialized skills in one of the fields above, or virtually any other. Others may also carry out small procedures such as minor surgery.

Services all practices provide:

Services that can be expected from every practice, but which are not mandatory:

These are the main services and responsibilities you can expect your practice to offer in almost any case. There are a number of additional services a GP can choose to provide. Usually, you can find out about the qualifications of a GP in the practice they work in, or by using the NHS service search engine.

When You’re Feeling Poorly: Making Appointments

Booking an appointment is very straightforward and is usually done on the phone or sometimes even online. If you need to see your GP urgently, you can also visit the practice and wait. This makes sure you will be seen on that day. Or you can call ahead and see whether they have time to see you on short notice. In some cases, you can also opt for a consultation via phone or with the practice nurse.

Please keep in mind that both the way appointments are made, as well as the time you will have to wait if you do not have an appointment, vary greatly between practices. If you have any questions, please refer to the administrative staff of your local GP.   

You’re Never Short on Information

Owing perhaps to their exceptional position mentioned above, no other facet of the UK’s healthcare system is as well documented as the GP and their services. Not only will you be able to get in-depth information on general practitioners on the various NHS websites,  e.g. on NHS England, but you can also get all kinds of information brochures either at the practice, or online. The excellent It’s Your Practice patient guide will surely answer any questions on general practitioners that might pop up. It’s well worth a look! 


We do our best to keep this article up to date. However, we cannot guarantee that the information provided is always current or complete. 

InterNations Expat Magazine