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What's keeping you from your GP?

Jane Murphy / 08 November 2016

Not enough time? Nosey receptionist? Or just plain old embarrassment? Here's how to get over seven common hurdles that stop us seeing a doctor...

Waiting on the phone to get through to GP surgery
More than one in four patients report problems getting through to their GP practice on the telephone, according to research

1. 'I can't get a convenient appointment'

Nearly half of us – 42 per cent – find it difficult to get a GP's appointment at a convenient time, according to a recent Cancer Research UK survey. What's more, the average waiting time for a routine consultation is now just under 13 days, says a recent survey by Pulse.

The solution: Be flexible. If you put off getting a nagging problem checked out because you can't secure the ideal appointment, you could be jeopardising your health. It also pays to ask the receptionist's advice: find out when each block of appointments is released so you can aim to be first in the queue. Some practices also offer telephone consultations. Or try signing up for GP online services to book your own appointment with the surgery.

Five ways to get a GP appointment today

Want to talk to a GP today? With Saga Health Insurance, you have unlimited access to a qualified GP 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Find out more about our GP phone service.

2. 'I never get to see my preferred GP'

This is another common bugbear, affecting 42 per cent of respondents in the Cancer Research UK survey. In fact, one in 10 of us 'almost never or never' get to see our chosen doctor, according to the most recent GP Patient Survey.

The solution: Persevere – and think ahead. Continuity of care can make a big difference to your health. Raise your concerns with your chosen GP when you do get to see him or her – and if you're being treated for an on-going condition, book a follow-up appointment before you leave the surgery. Every patient in England now has a named GP who is accountable for coordinating their care, although this doesn't mean you can't see another doctor in the practice. If you're not sure who your named GP is, ask at reception.

3. 'I'm wary of the prying receptionist'

Don't like having to discuss your symptoms with the receptionist? You're not alone: 40 per cent of us say the thought of doing so deters them from trying to make an appointment, says the Cancer Research UK survey.

The solution: Don't think of it as prying. When receptionists ask why you need to see your GP, they're not just being nosey; they've been asked to do it. If your GP has prior warning of the reason for your appointment, he or she can be better prepared to help you. Remember, receptionists are bound by the same rules of confidentiality as the doctors and nurses – but you should never feel obliged to discuss your symptoms in detail. Think the receptionist is being rude or obstructive? Raise your concerns with the practice manager.

Read more about how patients feel about discussing their symptoms with GP receptionists

4. 'I'm too embarrassed'

Many of us feel too self-conscious to talk to our GPs about intimate symptoms, numerous studies have shown. An example? One in three people are too embarrassed to talk to their GP about poo – even though blood in the poo is a key symptom of bowel cancer, according to a Department of Health survey.

The solution: Get over it! There is absolutely nothing to be embarrassed about – not least because doctors have heard it all before. Any new sign or symptom, or something that has stayed or got worse over time, needs to be checked out by your GP as soon as possible.

Bowel cancer warning signs

5. 'They never pick up the phone'

More than one in four patients report problems getting through to their GP practice on the telephone, according to recent research by the National Audit Office.

The solution: Explore the alternatives. Try signing up for online services or book routine appointments in person if you're passing the surgery. You could also try calling at quieter times – usually late afternoon. But if you frequently experience problems getting through, do raise the issue with the practice manager. And if your concerns aren't resolved, make a formal complaint: all surgeries have a complaints procedure.

6. 'I don't want to be a nuisance'

Worrying about wasting GPs' time stops many people from reporting niggling symptoms that could indicate cancer or another serious condition, according to a study published in the British Journal of General Practice.

The solution: Don't delay – make an appointment now. 'GPs always want to see patients with worrying symptoms as soon as possible,' insists Cancer Research UK's GP expert Dr Richard Roope.

7. 'My doctor doesn't listen'

Ever feel your GP has interrupted you before you've managed to explain your symptoms? You could have a point. Research has shown that doctors tend to interrupt after just 17 seconds – whereas if they allowed us to talk freely, they'd only have to listen for a further 40 seconds on average.

The solution: Go prepared – and be proactive. Write down exactly what you want to say before your consultation. And if your GP does interrupt, don't just sit back and listen; make sure you get your point across. Ask the doctor to repeat or explain anything you don't fully understand. And if you still don't feel your GP is listening, try switching to another doctor in the same practice, or consider changing practices completely.

How to get the most from your GP appointment

Unlimited access to a qualified GP with Saga Health Insurance - you'll have access 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to a GP consultation service. Find out more about our GP phone service.


The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.