We all know the NHS is buckling right now – not helped by the pressures of a post-COVID backlog combined with so many seasonal viruses circulating. But when you’re sick, you’re sick – and you’re entitled to see a GP for help.
At least you should be, but with the average GP currently looking after over 2,000 patients (source: BMA), it’s easier said than done sometimes. With so many GP practices oversubscribed, it’s no wonder that you struggle to get an appointment on a day to suit you, let alone the same week you fall unwell.
Sadly things aren’t going to get fixed overnight, but if we all do our bit, we can take some of the strain off the NHS, increasing our chances of seeing a doctor when we really do need one. That includes knowing when other services can help us instead of taking up a valuable GP appointment.
From pharmacies to other genius shortcuts, here are some examples of when you don’t need to see a doctor … as well as when you really do!
If you’ve been off-sick or are injured and need to get a medical note to explain your absence, there’s no need to take up your doctor’s time for this – or yours for that matter.
Although the NHS does indeed offer this service, you’ll need to get an appointment, explain what you need, return to collect the letter and pay for it, too. ‘All that costs you time, money and unnecessary frustration in the process,’ says ZoomDoc CEO and GP, Dr Kenny Livingstone, who aims to take pressure off the NHS by enabling sick or recovered employees to use his app’s medical letters service. Doing so ‘will free up millions of NHS appointments every year’, he says.
Because even though these letters are available from your GP, there’s still a fee for the service – and rightly so. But at least by using a private service, such as ZoomDoc, you’ll get the sick note with a lot less hassle, for the same fee. ‘Not only that, you’ll have freed up an NHS appointment for someone who really needs it,’ says Dr Kenny.
All you need to do is select its ‘Work Sickness Certificate’, follow the simple instructions and you’ll get an official sick note sent straight to you for just £40. If you specifically need a Med3 Fit Note these are only available via your NHS GP.
And should you need to see a specialist and are in a position to see a private consultant, there’s no need to see your NHS GP for a referral first. Simply select ZoomDoc’s ‘GP Referral’ option for a same-day referral letter for just £35.
- Travel certificates
The same goes for if you need proof to fly – whether that’s because you’re pregnant and need to prove you’re fit and well, or because your child has just recovered from chickenpox and you need it for the airline so they’ll let you on board.
‘Take the stress out of last-minute or much-needed travel requirements with our same-day service available at the click of a button,’ says Dr Kenny.
- Repeat prescriptions
Lots of us still don’t realise that you don’t need to physically trek to the GP and take up an appointment to get a repeat prescription. Your local pharmacy can handle this for you.
It may take a phone call to the GP to nominate your pharmacy but after that, just call your pharmacy to request it and they’ll sort it for you.
Better still, you can use the NHS Pharmacy2U app to order regular medication without even speaking to anyone. It offers free delivery to your door and reminds you when you’re due to run out and need to reorder it.
- Medicine questions and concerns
So many questions you might have about a condition or injury can be answered by your pharmacist. If it’s personal or embarrassing, you can always ask to use their consultation room so you’re not discussing it in front of other customers.
If your pharmacist can help it could save you an appointment – and if they can’t help they’ll at least be able to advise you where to go next, such as if you do need to see a doctor, urgent care clinic or A&E.
Find your nearest pharmacy here.
- Non-NHS vaccines
If you need a flu jab, COVID jab or travel vaccines for a specific country, there’s not always a need to go to your GP about these.
If you’re eligible for a free flu or COVID jab, these may be administered by your GP, but are sometimes also available free via pharmacies like Boots. If you’re not eligible for a free jab but want to pay for one, you’ll have to have yours at a private clinic or pharmacy anyway.
Although travel vaccines are available from your NHS practice, you’ll have to pay for common ones like Hep B, Yellow Fever, Tuberculosis so again why not free up an appointment and shop around to see where else offers these near you, such as pharmacies or private clinics.
- COVID-19 or something contagious
If we’ve learnt anything from the pandemic, it’s just how contagious some viruses can be and we can all do our bit to avoid taking it into a GP practice and spreading it round the waiting room.
If you suspect you have COVID (either from testing or symptoms) always let reception know on the phone, before heading into the surgery. They can arrange for a doctor to call you back and assess whether you need to be physically seen, helping stop the spread and freeing up an appointment in the meantime.
Of course, if you feel really unwell, do stress this or call 111 if it’s out of hours.
When you really do need to see a doctor
In all seriousness, we’re all entitled to see a doctor for something we’re worried about.
If it’s minor or you don’t mind paying to talk to a doctor, keep in mind health apps like ZoomDoc and online services or pharmacies. And of course, always see or contact your doctor if you really feel unwell.
As a general rule, it’s important to see your doctor for the following complaints:
- Illness (with fever, signs of dehydration)
- Scarlet fever or Strep A symptoms
- New pain
- Unusual lumps, sudden weight-loss, unexplained symptoms
- Mental health concerns
- Sleep problems or fatigue
- Persistent coughs
- Unexplained or new rash
- New or growing moles
- Change in bowel habits (constipation, diarrhoea, piles, trapped wind)
- Severe or lingering indigestion
- Back pain
- Pregnancy-related problems (also contact your midwife for anything urgent)
Call 999 or go straight to A&E if you have any of the following:
- severe bleeding or serious trauma
- breathing difficulties
- severe chest pain
- loss of consciousness