Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Registering with a Doctor: the Gateway to the Healthcare System

One of the first things you will want to do upon your arrival (after you've secured housing) is to register at your local surgery (doctor's office). As you've no doubt heard by now, most health care in the UK is free if you (or your spouse) are studying for more than six months. However, there are some things you need to do in order to be able to access it. Registering with a GP (General Practitioner or Doctor) is the first step. It is important to do this as soon as you have housing because it can take up to several weeks to get the process sorted out. If you are pregnant, or have an ongoing medical condition, those weeks can be really frustrating.

1.) Find the surgery that is nearest to your flat. You can do this online by clicking on the following links. For England click here. For Scotland, click here.

2.) They will need to see:

a. Your proof of address. You MUST take either a copy of your rental agreement or a piece of official mail (such as a phone bill) with you to the GP's. A hand-addressed envelope will not work. Believe me, I tried it.

b. Your passport with visa inside.

c. It's worth mentioning that they will need to see you too. You cannot register for your spouse. Again, tried it.

3.) They will give you paperwork to fill out--nothing too long or scary. You should be able to fill it out while in the office.

4.) If you don't need to see a doctor immediately you’re done. If you do, you can try making an appointment while you’re there.

If you are pregnant or need to see a specialist, there may be a further wait as you will now need a referral from your new doctor.

Here is a timeline from my experience for accessing specialized care:

1.) Two weeks after settling in at our flat, we received our first official piece of mail. (Want a tip for speeding that up? Sign up for a phone and/or internet plan as soon as you move in. The phone company should send you a piece of mail within a couple of days. This will be helpful, especially if you don't receive a copy of your rental agreement right away as proof of address.) As you know from above, official mail meant we could register with the GP which was the first step.

2.) At the time of my registration, I made another appointment with the GP to go over my general medical history. Just more paperwork, really. This was a necessary prerequisite to being referred to the midwife. The first available option for this appointment was a week after initial registration.

3.) Only after this appointment, did my GP make the referral to the midwives. A week and a half later, I got a letter from the midwives offering me an appointment for the following week.

So, I had been in the UK a total of 5 1/2 weeks before I was seen by my midwife. I believe the process would be the same with any specialist, though with some specialists I imagine the wait would be longer.

My point in telling you this is so that you will not arrive in the UK (as I did) with the expectation that you can go right to the doctor. It may be several weeks before you can be seen, especially if you need to see a specialist.

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