How to choose a GP

What to consider when joining a new doctor's surgery

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Whether you're unhappy with your existing GP surgery or moving to a new area, you'll need to put some thought into choosing which practice you'd like to sign up to. There are a number of factors to consider in making this important choice, and not all of them are obvious.

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Home or away?
In the past patients haven't had a lot of choice, but in 2015 the rules were relaxed to allow practices to register patients from outside their boundaries. This means that people could see a GP close to their work or their children's school – if those locations were different to their home.

Practices are under no compulsion to accept patients, and may refuse them if they have no spare capacity or if they feel it would not be clinically appropriate. Note that if you are accepted by a practice in another town, it may be under the proviso that the doctors are under no obligation to make a home visit.

Another thing to consider is how your GP's location may affect referrals to hospitals and other health services. This will depend on health trusts' geographical boundaries and it's worth discussing with a prospective GP or practice manager.

Performance ratings
The GP Patient Survey website contains the data from questions sent to more than one million people, sharing their experiences of their GP practices. Commissioned by NHS England, it was delivered by market research company Ipsos Mori and contains information on every practice in the country.

Health watchdog the Care Quality Commission also carries data on the GP practices it has assessed. These can be viewed on an interactive map and then the full reports can be downloaded in PDF form, should you wish.

Facilities and specialisms
Practices vary in size and it may be that the closest one to you is small and lacks some of the facilities offered by larger surgeries. Opening hours might be more limited at smaller practices and with a smaller roster of GPs there may be fewer specialisms on offer for patients.

A larger practice could have GPs specialising in issues such as mental health, sexual health, cardiology or conditions affecting older people. Don't be afraid to contact surgeries and ask. Larger practices may also have nurse practitioners carrying out basic procedures, which can make for a more efficient service.

Word of mouth
Ask friends, neighbours and colleagues for their experience of the local GPs. It's good to get a range of opinions rather than relying on one person's experience, which may have been soured by a one-off incident. If possible, speak to people with similar health needs to yourself. Pop into the surgery in person and see if you like the feel of the place. Are the receptionists friendly and helpful? Do the noticeboards and posters suggest the practice is taking a proactive approach on the right issues?

Appointments system
It's no use being signed up to the best GP in the world if you can't get an appointment at a time that suits you. At some practices you can usually book an appointment the same week, or just turn up and wait in the morning - but at other you may have to wait a week or more to see a GP. Your preferences in this regard will depend upon your medical history and how you tend to use GP services.