Your doctor is your first contact for all health services in the NHS and can direct you to any other available health services.  You may hear your doctor’s service also be called a General Practitioner (GP), family doctor, primary care, or GP surgery. 

Almost every person living in Somerset is registered with a GP practice, where they access their primary care services.

If you do not have a doctor, you will need to register. 

Find a doctor near you and enter your postcode. When you find a GP surgery near you, check the website to find out how you can register. Some GP surgeries allow you to register online and others will need you to visit. You can find out more on the NHS website about  How to Register with a GP Surgery

When to see a doctor

You may need to see a doctor for a lot of different reasons, including:

  • Infections, viruses or general illness
  • Physical injuries, aches, pains or sore joints
  • Feeling sad or unhappy about something in life
  • Contraception, pregnancy and sexual health
  • Immunisations
  • Need help with staying healthy such as diet and smoking.

If you are not sure what is wrong but need advice, support or guidance on what to do next, contact NHS 111. They will tell you if you need to see your doctor. If your doctor cannot deal with a problem, then they will usually refer you to a hospital for tests, treatment, or to see a consultant with specialist knowledge.

The only time when you might go straight to the hospital is if you thought there was an emergency putting someone’s life at risk, or if you had been involved in an accident and thought you had broken a bone or needed stitches urgently.

For more information visit the NHS website

Visiting the doctor

If you have not been to a doctor before you may not know what to expect. There are things you can do to prepare including:

  • Write down the questions you may want to ask
  • Make a list of the medications you are taking (these could be ones you have bought at the pharmacy)
  • Write down your symptoms (why you are going to the doctors), when did the symptoms start and does anything make them worse or better?
  • Ask someone you trust to come with you

To find out more you can visit the NHS website or watch the video below:

If you have a learning disability and/or autism you may find this guide to visiting the doctor helpful.

Who works in a General Practice?

  • GP partners – These are GPs that own the practice. GPs will have had 9 to 10 years of training in the full range of medical conditions which affect people of all ages. Some GPs may develop a special interest in a specific area, but they are still expected to keep up to date in all areas relevant to their work not only medical conditions but also business matters, social care factors and other areas.

  • Salaried or sessional GPs – These are qualified GPs as above, but they are paid depending on the number of sessions they work with a guaranteed income. They will work in a single practice and are only expected to work the hours they are paid but many salaried GPs will work far more.

  • Locum GPs – These are qualified and self-employed GPs as above who will work paid sessions in a variety of different practices, usually to cover when the regular GPs are on leave.

  • GP registrars – These are GPs in training. They are qualified doctors who have completed between 7 and 9 years of training. They will be attached to surgery for a period of time while they are taught by the GP trainer in the practice. 
  • Practice nurses – These are usually adult trained nurses employed by the GP partners to look after long term conditions, and perform certain procedures such as immunisations or cervical smears. Their only role in looking after children is the provision of childhood immunisations and the management of asthma.

  • Nurse practitioners – These are qualified practice nurses who have undergone further training to cover a variety of more specialised roles. Some nurse practitioners will deal with acute medical presentations including childhood illnesses. They will have had specific training in these areas. Some nurse practitioners are able to prescribe.

  • Health Care Assistants – Health care assistants (HCAs) carry out a variety of specialised functions to support practice nurses and GPs including blood tests, blood pressure checks, ear syringing (less commonly now) or dressings.

  • Paramedics – Many practices now employ paramedics to see acutely unwell patients and identify those that need further treatment or investigations. They will often deal with ‘same day’ patients that have self-identified as needing to be seen urgently. Many children will present with acute same-day presentations and so will be seen by paramedics. They are often able to prescribe and work independently.

  • Clinical pharmacists – Employed by some practices to manage repeat prescriptions and changes to prescriptions after hospital assessments.

  • Physiotherapists – Some practices will have appointed physiotherapists to see people with musculoskeletal problems.

  • Mental health support workers – Some practices will have mental health support workers to support patients with mental health problems.

  • Practice manager – Responsible for the overall management of the practice. They are usually employed by the partners although some may also be partners in the practice.

  • Administration team – A range of people who support the day-to-day running of practices including receptionists, secretaries, clinical summarises, prescription clerks and the audit team. 

Understanding how GP practices are run

In Somerset, there are over 60 GP practices. Some of these practices are smaller and run by just one GP, while others are much bigger and consist of multiple practices working together. On average, each GP has around 1,800 patients registered with them. 

You can think of most GP practices as corner shops – small businesses owned by a GP or a group of GPs who hire their own primary care team. However, some practices in Somerset are managed by a primary care organisation. These practices provide GP services to about 20% of Somerset residents. Unlike traditional practices, the primary care organisation has employed GPs and other staff members, but the operation is controlled by a centralised business. 

Funding for GP surgeries is complex, but practices get a fixed amount of money every year to take care of each patient. It doesn’t matter how complicated the patient’s needs are or how much attention they require. 

GP surgeries will cover a geographical area, and patients will register with a practice in that area. You can sign up with a surgery from another area if you want to, but in that case, the doctors aren’t obliged to visit you at your home. 

GP surgeries have been grouped into networks based on location, these are called Primary Care Networks (PCNs). Through better collaboration between practices and others in the local health and social care system money can be saved. There are 12 PCNs in Somerset: 


Autism and ADHD Pathway Assessments

The pre-assessment pathway for Autism and ADHD can be found on the Autism and ADHD Pathway page. These documents have been developed in collaboration with education, health and care colleagues as well as parent carers, children and young people (CYP). They have been developed to support education settings, practitioners, and parent carers so that everyone better understands the pre-assessment pathway.

Last reviewed: January 31, 2024 by Sophie

Next review due: July 31, 2024

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