Seeing the doctor
Making an appointment
If you notice something that's not normal for you, take charge and get it checked out. If there’s been an unusual or persistent change to your body, tell your doctor, rather than waiting to see if it clears up.
Sometimes it can feel difficult to make an appointment with your doctor that suits you, but many surgeries now allow patients to book appointments online and have extended opening hours on weekdays or at weekends to make it easier to find an appointment that works for you. And when you book an appointment, you don’t need to tell the receptionist any details. Some doctors also offer telephone consultations, which may be convenient if you find it difficult to go to the surgery.
Not registered with a doctor?
You can find a doctor near you and more information on how to register by searching:
- NHS choices website (England)
- NHS24 website (Scotland)
- NHS Direct Wales
- Health and Social Care in Northern Ireland website
- You can also call the NHS non-emergency number on 111
Being registered with a doctor is really important – if you’re not registered with a doctor it can be difficult to get appointments and you won’t get any invitations to take part in the cancer screening programmes.
Seeing the doctor
Telling a doctor there's something wrong can seem a bit overwhelming. But your doctor is there to help and will want to see you. Here are some ideas for how to get the most out of your appointment:
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 Network (Cheshire & Merseyside)
Be open. Tell your doctor anything that's not normal for you, even if it doesn't seem that important or you think it might be a bit embarassing.
Be thorough. Mention all your symptoms. Don't dismiss changes as 'part of getting older' or assume they are down to another health condition you might have. Cancer is much more common in people over 50, but can affect anyone of any age, so tell your doctor everything you're feeling.
Be as stubborn as your symptom. Don't worry you're wasting your doctor's time. If your symptoms haven't gone away, or if you still feel something's not right, make another appointment. Your doctor will want to know.
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 wanted to say can help. It can also be really useful for your doctor to have a list of medications that you are taking, including any over-the-counter or herbal remedies.
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 Network
After your appointment
Your doctor might ask you to go back to them if your symptoms don’t clear up after a certain time. It’s very important that you go back if that’s the case, or if you develop any new symptoms.
If your doctor has referred you for further tests, make sure you go along to that appointment, or reschedule it if you can’t make the time you’ve been given.
And even if a test comes back clear, if your symptoms don’t go away or you notice something new that isn’t normal for you, go back to see your doctor again.
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
Who else could you talk to?
There are other people who can give you advice too:
- your dentist, if you’ve noticed something in your mouth
- a pharmacist
- the practice nurse
- the CRUK Nurse Helpline (call free on 0808 800 4040)
Worried about seeing your doctor?
Sometimes people might feel nervous or concerned about going to see their doctor for different reasons. But if you’ve noticed an unusual or persistent change it’s really important that you go and talk to your GP about it.
Remember, your doctor is a professional and used to dealing with lots of different types of problems, and there is no need to be embarrassed. They shouldn't do any tests or examinations without asking you first, and explaining what they are doing and why. If you have any concerns, you can take someone along to your appointment, or ask the receptionist if you need any extra help.
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 Network for Cancer