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A voice and a choice for our mental health

Knowing Your Rights

For many people a visit to the doctor (also known as a GP or general practitioner) can make them feel anxious or frustrated, especially with increasingly limited time for appointments and just 10 minutes to discuss what is worrying you, ask questions and discuss your treatment options. But what about your rights? Do you know exactly what you are entitled to when it comes to seeing your GP?

You can…

  • Be sure that everything said during your appointment is kept private between you and your doctor: you have a right to complete confidentiality unless you or another person is seen to be at risk of abuse, no matter how old you are.
  • Ask to see a new doctor – and one that is specifically male or female, if this is important for you. If you are unhappy with the response you get from a doctor you see, you can ask to see a different person next time. It is important that you find one that you feel comfortable talking to, as you might want to discuss personal feelings which can be confusing and distressing. (In a few GP surgeries there may only be one GP; if you are really unhappy, you can change GP surgery to another within that area).
  • Ask to see your preferred doctor. Once you find a doctor you like, it is best to stick with them (and always request to see them when you book an appointment) because they will gradually begin to know you and your case. This might help as they could, over time, recognise your personal signs of potential further illness, and you will not have to keep repeating your story and symptoms each time you visit.
  • Ask to book appointments in advance. Most GP surgeries will do this, and it will help if you want to see a particular doctor.
  • Be involved in discussions and decisions about your health. Decisions about your healthcare and treatment should be a joint discussion which is agreed by both you and your doctor.
  • Access your medical records (under Data Protection Act 1988). These can be free but there may be a fee of up to £50. This information should be provided within 40 days. Exceptions to this are if there is something in your notes that is felt may cause mental or physical harm to you or others.
  • Take a ‘chaperone’ with you into your appointment. This might make you feel more comfortable. You can bring a friend or family member, or if you ask at reception, some surgeries have chaperones available.
  • Ask for a double appointment (20 minutes) if you feel 10 minutes is not going to be long enough, or you have more than one medical condition to discuss. You may need to be firm about your need for this additional time, or wait until the end of surgery time as most appointment slots are just for the 10 minutes.
  • Consent to your own treatment (if you are over 16) and this cannot be overruled by your parents. If you’re under 16 you can consent to your own treatment if you show that you have the competence and understanding to be fully aware of your options and what would be involved in your chosen treatment.
  • Ask to speak to the receptionist in private. The receptionist shouldn’t ask you any difficult or personal questions when you arrive, as other people may be in the waiting room. If they do ask you something difficult, you can either say you’d rather not answer, or ask to speak to them in a private room.


You don’t have to…

  • You don’t have to accept any treatment offered to you. If it doesn’t sound like something you’re comfortable with, don’t be afraid to say this to your GP, and ask him/her what your other options are.
  • You don’t have to have a physical examination without giving consent.
  • You don’t have to tell the receptionist why you want to see a GP when you call to make your appointment… but it might help if you do – they are probably asking you to make sure you see the right person. Sometimes that will be a GP, but other times it may be better for you to see a nurse or go to A&E.

If you choose to refuse treatment…

  • …if you’re under 17 and your GP thinks that your refusal may lead to your death or a severe permanent injury, your decision may be overruled by the Court of Protection (the legal body that oversees the operation of the Mental Capacity Act, 2005).
  • …in some cases, your parents may be allowed to consent for you – this has happened in some situations in the past, but it would usually have to go through the courts.


Lastly, before you visit your GP, make sure you also read about:


How to get the most out of your appointment

How to give feedback