Most surgeries are open outside regular working hours; a typical doctor's surgery will be open between eight in the morning and seven in the evening. In order to see your doctor, you must first make an appointment. This can easily be done over the phone or by visiting the surgery and asking at the reception desk.

Generally, you will be seen within two working days, but waiting lists will vary depending on the size of the practice. If you need to see a doctor in an emergency, you should tell the receptionist that you require urgent care. Regular appointments will be scheduled in the next available time slot, but most surgeries will also offer same-day emergency appointments. Many doctors also make home visits to patients who are too ill to visit the surgery; these appointments can be made in the same way as a regular appointment.

It is essential that you are on time for all appointments, or give the doctor at least one day’s notice if you are unable to attend. If you fail to attend without good reason, or miss several appointments, the surgery is entitled to refuse you as a patient. If you are late for an appointment, the doctor will be waiting for you because other patients who are scheduled for later appointments will not have arrived. If your appointment begins ten minutes late, it is likely that every subsequent appointment will also be delayed. This knock-on effect is particularly detrimental for elderly patients, who are feeling unwell and are kept waiting for an unnecessarily long time.

When you arrive at the surgery for your appointment, you may be required to wait for a few minutes before the doctor is able to see you. Sometimes, appointments will take longer than expected, perhaps because a patient has a complicated problem and the doctor has a lot to explain. Most surgeries have waiting rooms with magazines and refreshments, so you can relax while you wait.

If you have communication difficulties, or if you think that you will require more time to talk with your doctor, you should be able to request a longer appointment. It is a good idea to request a longer appointment even if you end up needing less time than you thought: it is better to speed up the waiting process for other patients than slow it down!

If the doctor tells you to make another appointment, perhaps for a blood test or a follow-up consultation, it is usually best to make this appointment straightaway. Ask one of the receptionists to make you a second appointment before you leave the surgery: you will need to know when the doctor wishes to see you again, for example, in one week or in two months. If you wait to make an appointment, and contact the surgery later on, you will often find that the appointment book is full. It is better to make an appointment immediately and, if necessary, contact the surgery to change the date if you are busy.

In case of emergency, all surgeries will have an out-of-hours emergency service in operation. This service is for urgent medical problems only: ones that cannot wait until the surgery re-opens the following day, or week. Different surgeries will operate their emergency service in different ways. Some practices will have a different doctor on call each night, whilst others will share the out-of-hours service with doctors from other local practices. In Wales this service is provided and managed by the Local Health Board, rather than the practice itself.

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