GPs - What to expect from your doctor
A GP is a doctor that can give you treatment and care for your physical and mental health. This section explains how a GP decides what treatment and care to give you. And how to prepare for a GP appointment.
This information is for people affected by mental illness in England who are 18 or over. It’s also for their carers, friends, relatives, and anyone interested in this subject.
If you would like more advice or information you can contact our Advice and Information Service by clicking here.
- GPs can provide treatment for mental health problems and offer long-term care and support.
- You can ask if there is a GP at your surgery who has an interest in mental health problems.
- It can help to write down a list of things you’d like to talk about with the GP. Such as symptoms or side-effects of medication.
- A GP will ask you about your mental and physical health and may make a diagnosis.
- A GP can refer you to a psychiatrist if they need to.
- You can change GPs as long as you are within their catchment area.
Need more advice?
Finding a GP
How do I get a GP?
You need to register with a local GP surgery to see a GP.
How do I register with a GP?
You can find your local surgeries on the NHS webpage here:
Or you can dial 111 to call ‘NHS 111.’ You can ask them for local surgery contact details.
You usually need to be in a surgery’s catchment area to register there. The catchment area is the local area that the surgery covers. GP surgeries can take patients from outside their area, but they don’t have to.
You may have a few different GP surgeries to choose from. To help you decide where to register you could compare what facilities they offer. For example, you could find out if they offer same day appointments or telephone appointments.
To register at a GP surgery, ask at their reception for a registration form. You might be able to do this online. The form will ask general questions such as your name, address, date of birth and details of your previous GP.
If you don’t have a GP but need to see one urgently you can speak to your local GP surgery. They can give you emergency treatment for 14 days.
In some areas you can see a GP by going to a walk-in service. You do not need to be a registered patient to visit these centres. Use the above link or call ‘111’ to find your nearest walk-in centre.
Can I see a GP if I become ill while I’m away from home?
If you fall ill while away from home, you can contact the nearest practice to ask for treatment. You can receive emergency treatment for 14 days.
If you need treatment for longer than 14 days, you will need to register as a temporary patient. This allows you to be treated by a GP surgery for up to 3 months. After 3 months you will need to register as a permanent patient.
Can I see a GP if I am homeless?
You can register at a GP surgery if you are homeless. You can use a friend’s address, the address of a day centre or the address of the GP surgery when you register.
You do not have to provide ID when registering with a GP. It isn’t considered to be a reasonable ground for refusing you. But it would helpful to take at least one of the documents below when registering with your GP:
- birth certificate,
- rough sleepers’ identity badge,
- hostel registration,
- mail forwarding letter, or
- HC2 certificate. This is a certificate you get if you have applied for the NHS Low Income Scheme.
If you are refused by the GP, ask the GP receptionist to write explaining the reason why they cannot register you.
How do I make an appointment?
Once you are registered you can make an appointment with a GP. You will need to contact the GP surgery to make an appointment. You can contact them through the phone or online.
Making an appointment by phone
When you contact the surgery, you will speak to a receptionist. They with book the appointment for you with a GP. You do not need to tell the receptionist why you want an appointment.
You can choose to see the first GP available. Or you can ask to book an appointment with a specific GP. You may want to try to see the same GP if you have a follow up appointment.
When you book your appointment, you can ask the receptionist the following.
- If there is a GP with a background or interest in mental health.
- Request to see a male or female GP.
- If the surgery offers telephone appointments.
- If you can book a ‘double appointment’.
A double appointment means you have more time to speak to the doctor. If your GP surgery is very busy, they may not be able to do this for you.
Making an appointment online
All GP surgeries should have online services. You may be able to book appointments using the online service. This means that you won’t need to speak to a receptionist. But not all GP appointments may be available through the online service. You can ask your GP surgery about their online services.
How long will I have to wait to see a GP?
The waiting time for an appointment to see a GP will be different at different GP surgeries. Sometimes you will be able to see a GP within a couple of days. But sometimes you may have to wait a few weeks.
Ask at reception for an emergency appointment if you need to see someone urgently. You might not be able to see your regular GP if you ask for an emergency appointment.
Can I see a GP in the evening or at the weekend?
You can now see a GP or nurse on:
- weekday evenings between 6.30pm and 8pm, and
- Saturdays and Sundays.
You can contact your GP surgery to book evening and weekend appointments. You may be able to get an appointment on the same day.
You may be offered an appointment at:
- your GP surgery,
- another local GP surgery, or
- another local NHS service.
How do I prepare for my appointment?
Write down what you want to talk about in the appointment. And what you want to get from the appointment. This can help if you are feeling anxious or worried. And can help you remember the questions you want to ask.
Write down a list of your symptoms. And if they get worse at certain times or when you do certain things. Write down anything else that you think your doctor needs to know, such as any medication you’re taking.
A mood diary can help you keep track of your symptoms, how you’re feeling and how your mood affects you. We have included a mood diary in the download of this factsheet. Click on the link at the top of this page.
Can I take someone with me?
Yes. This might be a close friend, relative or advocate. An advocate is someone outside of the NHS who can offer you support and help you to get your voice heard by your GP.
Your GP surgery may want to know ahead of your appointment, if you plan to bring someone with you.
Your friend or relative could go into the appointment with you or you can ask them to wait for you outside or in reception.
See our webpage on Advocacy for more information.
What happens at an appointment?
Appointments last around 10 minutes. During the appointment your GP will ask you questions about your mental and physical health. Try and be as honest as possible with your GP. Give them as much detail as you can about how you’re feeling and what your symptoms are. This will help them decide what can help you.
A GP could:
- prescribe you medication,
- pass your details on to a talking therapy service,
- pass your details onto a link worker,
- pass your details to a drugs and alcohol team, or
- pass your details on to a specialist mental health team.
They could also give advice on non-treatment options that can improve your mental health such as:
- how to reduce stress,
- how to get restful sleep,
- exercise, or
What is a link worker?
A link worker is part of social prescribing. This is non-medical option to help improve your wellbeing. Link workers are not yet available in all areas of the country. The NHS have committed to having 1,000 link workers in place by April 2021. There will be more link workers in place by 2024
A link worker will work with you to find out what is important to you. They can connect you with local support such as:
- activity groups,
- support groups,
- services, such as charities, and
- social services.
What medication will I be given?
Your GP will decide which is the best medication for you to try. But you should be involved with your care decisions. For example, talk to your GP if there is a certain medication or treatment that you would like to try. Or if you are experiencing certain side effects that you are finding difficult to deal with.
Ask why you have been given a certain treatment. Your GP should tell you how it can help you and explain possible side effects. Ask how well it works and what you should do if it doesn’t work. Ask if there is anything else you can do to help yourself.
Your GP should not usually prescribe you antipsychotic medication unless they have had advice from a psychiatrist.
You can check what treatment is recommended for your condition on the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidelines. NICE produce guidelines for how health professionals should treat certain conditions. You can download these from their website at: www.nice.org.uk.
But the NHS does not have to follow these recommendations.
Will I have to pay for treatment and care?
Your treatment and care through your GP is free. If you are referred for talking treatments through the NHS they should be provided for free too.
But you may need to pay for a prescription if you need medication. You can find out more information about paying for prescriptions at:
Will a record be made of my appointment?
The GP will write down what you talk about in your appointment. This will include your symptoms and any treatment they give you or offer to you.
The GP will record this on your medical notes. Your notes will be kept confidential. This means they should not pass them on to anyone else unless:
- you agree,
- It is reasonable to, or
- it is necessary to.
You can ask to see a copy of your medical notes.
For more information see our webpages on the following:
What happens next?
What happens after my appointment?
You can arrange a follow-up appointment with your GP. You might want a follow-up appointment if:
- you have any problems with your treatment,
- you are not getting better, or
- your symptoms get worse.
If you have been given medication your GP might offer check-ups to see how it is working and how you are feeling.
You might be able to go to a Medicines Use Review (MUR) with your pharmacist if you have lots of different prescriptions or you have a long-term condition. An MUR is an appointment with a pharmacist to check how you are getting on with your medicine.
Your GP may refer you to a specialist mental health team to get more experienced help. They might do this if your GP:
- has tried all options,
- thinks your problems are too complex for them to deal with, or
- feels you are at risk of suicide or self-harm.
Your GP will take over your mental health care if you are discharged from a specialist mental health team or the Care Programme Approach.
What is a specialist mental health team?
A specialist mental health team can support you with your mental health. The team is made up of mental health professionals such as a psychologist, psychiatrist and mental health nurse.
The most common mental health teams are:
- Community Mental Health Team
- Crisis Team
- Early Intervention
Your GP will look after your physical health needs if you are referred to mental health services.
Your GP should do a physical health check for you every year if you have a severe mental illness. Severe mental illness includes schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, schizoaffective disorder and psychosis. People with these conditions are at higher risk of certain physical health conditions.
GP surgeries usually hold a list of all patients at the practice who have severe mental illness or take antipsychotic medication. This reminds the GP or nurse to contact you when a check is due. A health check may include taking your blood pressure, taking your pulse, doing a urine or blood test or weighing you.
For more information see our webpages on the following:
What should I do if I have any problems?
If you have problems with your GP, you could try the following options.
Change your GP
Ask at reception or look online to see if there is another GP with an interest or background in mental health. You could arrange follow up appointments with them instead.
You might be able to change your GP surgery. You do not need to tell your current GP surgery, or new GP surgery why you want to change.
Ask for more support
GP surgeries have to be flexible to help people with mental illness use their service. You could ask for changes in the way they support you. This is called making reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act 2010.
You could ask for the following.
- To book your appointment later in the day or the previous day. Some surgeries only offer same-day appointments. You usually have to phone early in the morning. You may not be able to get up early enough if you are on certain medication.
- Appointment reminders if you think you might forget your appointment because of your condition. The surgery could send you a text or give you an appointment card.
- Ask to wait in a different waiting area. It is reasonable to ask for this if you find it difficult to wait for your appointment with other patients.
- Ask for a longer appointment.
Contact an advocate
An advocate is independent from the mental health service. They are free to use. They can be useful if you find it difficult to get your views heard.
There are different types of advocates available. Community advocates can support you to get a health professional to listen to your concerns. And help you to get the treatment that you would like.
You can search online to search for a local advocacy service. If you can’t find a service, you can call our advice service on 0300 5000 927. We will look for you. But this type of service doesn’t exist in all areas.
Contact the Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS)
PALS is part of the NHS. They give information and support to patients.
You can find your local PALS’ details through this website link:
Make a complaint to your GP or NHS England
If you can’t sort your problem, you can make a complaint. Your concerns investigated in more detail.
You can ask a member of your health team to explain how to make a complaint.
You can ask an advocate to help you make a complaint. Advocates that do this are called Independent Health Complaints Advocates. They are free to use and don’t work for the NHS.
Make a complaint to the GMC
You can complain to the General Medical Council (GMC) you think your GP needs to be investigated. All doctors have to be registered with the GMC.
The GMC may investigate your doctor for the following reasons.
- Serious or repeated mistakes in your care. Such as mistakes in your diagnosis or they have given you drugs in a dangerous way.
- Not examining you properly or not looking after your needs.
- Doesn’t understand the English language well enough to understand you and other patients.
- Abuse of their position. Such as an improper sexual or emotional relationship with you.
- Discrimination against you.
- Serious breach of your confidentiality.
The GMC may stop your doctor from practicing. Or may reduce what your doctor is able to do.
The GMC will not be able to get you an apology. Or get you the treatment that you would like.
The GMC details are in the ‘Useful contacts’ section at the bottom of this page.
For more information see our webpages on the following:
What should I do if I’m banned from my GP?
NHS Regulations allow a GP practice to immediately remove you from their list following any incident where:
- a GP or member of practice staff has feared for their safety or wellbeing, and
- it resulted in the incident being reported to the police.
I want my existing practice to have me as a patient. What can I do?
If you want to still be treated by your existing practice, you can contact them to:
- apologise for the behaviour that led to them banning you,
- ask them to take you back as a patient, and
- say that you are willing to agree a “contract of behaviour”.
A “contract of behaviour” is a written agreement between you and the GP surgery. It says what rules you need to follow and what behaviour is expected from you.
What if my existing practice won't take me back?
If the practice won’t take you back, you can try to register with a different GP practice. You can search for practices in your local area here:
If you are struggling to get accepted by a local GP practice, you can contact your local NHS Trust. You can search for your nearest NHS trust online. They can find you a GP to register with.
You might be told you’ve been allocated a specific GP practice under the NHS special allocation scheme.
What is the NHS special allocation scheme?
The scheme makes sure that patients who’ve been banned from a practice can continue to access healthcare at a specific GP practice.
NHS England has a responsibility to make sure that:
- all patients can access good quality GP services, and
- patients aren’t refused healthcare following incidents that are reported to the police.
If you’ve been referred to the scheme, you should be sent a letter telling you this.
You can read more about the NHS special allocation scheme here:
Help in a crisis
What if I need help in a crisis?
You might need to see someone quickly if you are in a mental health crisis.
- Your GP might be able to help you get support in a crisis. If you call your surgery when it’s closed there will be a message to tell you who to call.
- NHS 111 service can help you if you don’t have a GP or you do not know who to call. Dial 111 on your phone, it is free. The line is open 24 hours a day 7 days a week.
- Call your local crisis team.
- Go to the nearest Accident & Emergency Department at your local hospital.
- Call 999 and ask for an ambulance in an emergency.
Carers, friends & relatives
Information for carers, friends and relatives
You might want to share information with your relative’s GP. GP’s are allowed to listen to your concerns. This is not a breach of confidentiality.
Sharing information can help them to make a decision about what care is needed. But they will not be able to share information with you unless your relative has told them they can. They might tell your relative or friend that you spoke to them.
See our webpage on Confidentiality and information sharing - for carers, friends and relatives for more information.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE)
NICE produce guidance for the NHS on how to treat certain mental health conditions. You can download these for free from the NICE website.
Telephone: 0300 323 0140
Address: 10 Spring Gardens, London, SW1A 2BU
You can use this website to search for GP surgeries, hospitals or walk-in centres in your area.
Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS)
You can contact your local PALS service if you are having a problem with your GP, or GP surgery. You can search for your local PALS using the website below.
General Medical Council (GMC)
You can complain to the GMC about your GP if you think that your doctor needs to be investigated.
Telephone: 0161 923 6602 (Monday – Friday 8am – 5:30pm. Saturday 9am – 5pm)
© Rethink Mental Illness 2022
Last updated October 2022
Next update April 2023
Version number 4.1
You can access a fully referenced version of this information by downloading the PDF factsheet by using the link at the top of this page.
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