Talking to your doctor
- If something doesn’t look or feel quite right, or if you think you might have cancer, don’t ignore it - speak to your doctor.
- Don’t worry that you might be wasting your doctors time, if something’s unusual for you or won’t go away, they will want to hear about it.
- Remember, whether your appointment is via phone, video call or face to face, the NHS are still there for you – spotting cancer at an early stage saves lives.
It’s important to listen to your body and take charge if something doesn’t look or feel quite right, or if you think you might have cancer. In most cases it won’t be cancer, but if it is, spotting it early can make a real difference. It’s always best to speak to your doctor if something’s unusual for you or doesn’t go away.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the doctor will usually talk to you by phone, video chat or via an online messaging service first. If they do ask to see you face to face, it’s important you go. To keep everyone as safe as possible, things may be a little different – for example, you may need to wear a mask. But the most important thing to remember is that the NHS is still there for you. And your doctor is ready to see you safely.
Making an appointment with the doctor
You can make or change a GP appointment by calling the practice, or at some surgeries you can do this on their website. If you’re registered with a GP practice in England, you may also be able to use the NHS app.
Sometimes it can feel difficult to get an appointment with your doctor at a good time. Keep trying, even if you’re busy. Many GP surgeries have options to help patients find appointments that work for them. For example, some surgeries have longer opening hours on weekdays, or even at weekends.
Remember, when booking an appointment by phone, you don’t have to tell the receptionist any details - but it can be helpful. Depending on your symptoms, they might be able to get you an earlier appointment, or suggest someone who can talk to you sooner than your GP. This could be a practice nurse or a pharmacist. They also might be able to explain anything you’re unsure about before your appointment. Video and telephone consultations are new to lots of people – so ask the receptionist if you’d like more information.
Talking to your doctor
Talking to your doctor isn’t always easy. But they are there to help, and will want to know if something doesn’t look or feel quite right. Below are some ideas for how to get the most out of your appointment, whether it’s via phone, video or a face to face conversation. You may also want to check out the video above on tips for phone and digital appointments with your doctor.
As GPs, if there’s something bothering our patients, we want to hear about it.
Dr Debbie Harvey, GP Cancer Lead, North West Coast Strategic Clinical Alliance (Cheshire & Merseyside)
Be honest. Tell your doctor about anything that’s not normal for you, even if it doesn’t seem that important or you think it might be a bit embarrassing. They’ve seen and heard it all before.
Be thorough. Mention all your symptoms and don’t put it down to ‘just getting older’, or assume it’s part of another health condition. If something’s bothering you, then your doctor will want to hear about it. It’s particularly important to be detailed if you’re speaking to your doctor online or by phone and they can’t see you.
Stick with it. Don’t worry you might be wasting your doctor’s time. Even if you’ve been to see them already, they want to know if your symptoms haven’t gone away, or if something still doesn’t feel quite right.
Be prepared. Have a think about how to describe the changes, and roughly how long you’ve had them for. Writing down the things you want to say can help. It can also be useful for your doctor to have a list of medications that you are taking, including any over-the-counter or herbal remedies. And you may want to have a pen and paper ready, so you can take notes or write down any next steps during your appointment.
Some of my patients come in with all the things they want to tell me written down. That can be really useful to get a better picture of what's going on with their health and helps us prioritise which concerns to deal with first.
Dr Chris Tasker, GP Cancer Lead, North of England Cancer Alliance
After your appointment
Your doctor might ask you to call back if your symptoms don’t clear up after a certain length of time. And it’s very important to do so if your symptoms don’t go away, or if you develop any new symptoms.
Even if the doctor hasn’t asked you to, make another appointment if the same symptoms keep bothering you, or if something new appears. It’s not a waste of your doctor’s time – they will want to know.
If your doctor has referred you for further tests, it’s important that you attend these too. Change the appointment if you can’t make the time you’ve been given.
And even if a test comes back clear, speak to your doctor again if your symptoms don’t go away or you notice something else that’s not normal for you.
I always want to see my patients again if their problem or symptom doesn't go away, if it changes or comes back again following a course of treatment. This is really important, because as GPs we want to work with our patients to find the best treatments and way forward.
Dr Neil Smith, GP, Oakenhurst Medical Practice, Blackburn
Worried about seeing your doctor?
There are different reasons people might feel nervous, or have concerns about their appointment. But it’s important to let your GP know about anything that’s unusual for you or won’t go away. Remember, your doctor is a professional and used to dealing with lots of different types of problems.
Your doctor shouldn’t do any tests or examinations without asking you first. And they should explain what they are doing and why. You may be able to take someone to your appointment if you’d like support – ask your GP surgery first. You can also ask the receptionist if you need any extra help, or would like a chaperone (another member of staff) to be in the room for your appointment.
We know some people may also have concerns about visiting their GP or going into hospital due to COVID-19. But strict safety measures have been put in place to minimise the spread of coronavirus. These measures make it as safe as possible for you to see the doctor.
Remember, when cancer is spotted early, treatment is more likely to be successful.
There’s no need to worry about wasting your GP’s time. If one of my patients has noticed something unusual, it’s better to talk and make a plan together, than them worry about it at home.
Dr Katie Elliott, GP Clinical Lead, Northern England Strategic Clinical Alliance for Cancer
As well as your doctor, there are other people who can give you advice:
- Your dentist, if you’ve noticed something unusual in your mouth or on your tongue
- A pharmacist
- A practice nurse at your GP surgery
- The CRUK Nurse Helpline (call free on 0808 800 4040)