chapter 5 section 4
Healthcare in the UK is organised under the National Health Service (NHS). The NHS began in 1948, and is one of the largest organisations in Europe. It provides all residents with free healthcare and treatment.
Finding a doctor Family doctors are called General Practitioners (GPs) and they work in surgeries. GPs often work together in a group practice. This is sometimes called a Primary Health Care Centre.
Your GP is responsible for organising the health treatment you receive. Treatment can be for physical and mental illnesses. If you need to see a specialist, you must go to your GP first. Your GP will then refer you to a specialist in a hospital. Your GP can also refer you for specialist treatment if you have special needs.
You can get a list of local GPs from libraries, post offices, the tourist information office, the Citizens Advice Bureau, the local Health Authority and from the following websites:
www.nhs.uk/ for health practitioners in England;
www.wales.nhs.uk/directory.cfm for health practitioners in Wales;
www.n-inhs.uk for health practitioners in Northern Ireland;
www.show.scot.nhs.uk/findnearest/healthservices in Scotland
You can also ask neighbours and friends for the name of their local doctor.
You can attend a hospital without a GP’s letter only in the case of an emergency. If you have an emergency you should go to the Accident and Emergency (A & E) department of the nearest hospital.
Registering with a GP You should look for a GP as soon as you move to a new area. You should not wait until you are ill. The health centre, or surgery, will tell you what you need to do to register. Usually you must have a medical card. If you do not have one, the GP’s receptionist should give you a form to send to the local health authority. They will then send you a medical card.
Before you register you should check the surgery can offer what you need. For example, you might need a woman GP or maternity services. Sometimes GPs have many patients and are unable to accept new ones. If you can not find a GP you can ask your local health authority to help you find one.
Using your doctor All patients registering with a GP are entitled to a free health check. Appointments to see the GP can be made by phone or in person. Sometimes you might have to wait several days before you can see a doctor. If you need immediate medical attention ask for an urgent appointment. You should go to the GP’s surgery a few minutes before the appointment. If you cannot attend or do not need the appointment any more, you must let the surgery know. The GP needs patients to answer all questions as fully as possible in order to find out what is wrong. Everything you tell the GP is completely confidential and cannot be passed on to anyone else without your permission. If you do not understand something, ask for clarification. If you have difficulties with English, bring someone who can help you, or ask the receptionist for an interpreter. This must be done when you make the appointment. If you have asked for an interpreter, it is important that you keep your appointment because this service is expensive.
In exceptional circumstances, GPs can visit patients at home but they always give priority to people who are unable to travel. If you call the GP outside normal working hours, you will have to answer several questions about your situation. This is to assess how serious your case is. You will then be told if a doctor can come to your home. You might be advised to go to the nearest A & E department.
Charges Treatment from the GP is free but you have to pay a charge for your medicines and for certain services, such as vaccinations for travel abroad. If the GP decides you need to take medicine you will be given a prescription. You must take this to a pharmacy (chemist).
Prescriptions Prescriptions are free for anyone who is
• under 16 years of age (under 25 in Wales)
• under 19 and in full-time education
• aged 60 or over
• pregnant or with a baby under 12 months old
• suffering from a specified medical condition
• receiving Income Support, Jobseekers’ Allowance, Working Families or Disabilities Tax Credit
Feeling unwell If you or your child feels unwell you have the following options:
For information or advice
• ask your local pharmacist (chemist). The pharmacy can give advice on medicines and some illnesses and conditions that are not serious.
• speak to a nurse by phoning NHS Direct on 0845 46 47
• use the NHS Direct website, NHS Direct Online: www.nhsdirect.nhs.uk
To see a doctor or nurse
• make an appointment to see your GP or a nurse working in the surgery
• visit an NHS walk-in centre
For urgent medical treatment
• contact your GP
• go to your nearest hospital with an Accident and Emergency department
• call 999 for an ambulance. Calls are free. ONLY use this service for a real emergency.
NHS Direct is a 24-hour telephone service which provides information on particular health conditions. Telephone. 0845 46 47. You may ask for an interpreter for advice in your own language. In Scotland, NHS24 at www.nhs24.com telephone 08454 24 24 24.
NHS Direct Online is a website providing information about health services and several medical conditions and treatments: www.nhsdirect.nhs.uk
NHS walk-in centres provide treatment for minor injuries and illnesses seven days a week. You do not need an appointment. For details of your nearest centre call NHS Direct or visit the NHS website at: www.nhs.uk (for Northern Ireland www.n-i.nhs.uk ) and click on ‘local NHS services’.
Going into hospital If you need minor tests at a hospital, you will probably attend the Outpatients department. If your treatment takes several hours, you will go into hospital as a day patient. If you need to stay overnight, you will go into hospital as an in-patient.
You should take personal belongings with you, such as a towel, night clothes, things for washing, and a dressing gown. You will receive all your meals while you are an in-patient. If you need advice about going into hospital, contact Customer Services or the Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS) at the hospital where you will receive treatment.
Dentists You can get the name of a dentist by asking at the local library, at the Citizens Advice Bureau and through NHS Direct. Most people have to pay for dental treatment. Some dentists work for the NHS and some are private. NHS dentists charge less than private dentists, but some dentists have two sets of charges, both NHS and private. A dentist should explain your treatment and the charges before the treatment begins.
Free dental treatment is available to
• people under 18 (in Wales people under 25 and over 60)
• pregnant women and women with babies under 12 months old
• people on income support, Jobseekers’ Allowance or Pension Credit Guarantee
Opticians Most people have to pay for sight tests and glasses, except children, people over 60, people with certain eye conditions and people receiving certain benefits In Scotland, eye tests are free.
Pregnancy and care of young children If you are pregnant you will receive regular ante-natal care. This is available from your local hospital, local health centre or from special antenatal clinics. You will receive support from a GP and from a midwife. Midwives work in hospitals or health centres. Some GPs do not provide maternity services so you may wish to look for another GP during your pregnancy. In the UK women usually have their babies in hospital, especially if it is their first baby. It is common for the father to attend the birth, but only if the mother wants him to be there.
A short time after you have your child, you will begin regular contact with a health visitor. She or he is a qualified nurse and can advise you about caring for your baby. The first visits will be in your home, but after that you might meet the health visitor at a clinic. You can ask advice from your health visitor until your child is five years old. In most towns and cities there are mother and toddler groups or playgroups for small children. These often take place at local churches and community centres. You might be able to send your child to a nursery school.
Information on pregnancy You can get information on maternity and ante-natal services in your area from your local health authority, a health visitor or your GP. The number of your health authority will be in the phone book.
The Family Planning Association (FPA) gives advice on contraception and sexual health The FPA’s helpline is 0845310 1334, or: www.fpa.org.uk .
The National Childbirth Trust gives information and support in pregnancy, childbirth and early parenthood: www.nctpregnancyandbabycare.com .
Registering a birth Your must register your baby with the Registrar of Births, Marriages and Deaths (Register Office) within six weeks of the birth. The address of your local Register Office is in the phone book. If the parents are married, either the mother or father can register the birth. If they are not married, only the mother can register the birth. If the parents are not married but want both names on the child’s birth certificate, both mother and father must be present when they register their baby.