7 alternative ways to seek medical advice if you’re not able to visit your doctor.
Medically reviewed by Dr Roger Henderson and words by Anna Bonet
Feeling unwell and need to see a doctor? If you’re worried about your health, it can be frustrating if your GP practice has no appointments available or you just can’t get through on the phone. This situation is common during the winter months when surgeries are especially busy and it can be particularly worrying over the holidays if you start to feel seriously ill.
However, it is still possible to get the medical advice you need without a doctor’s appointment. Here are seven different routes to try:
✔️ Convey urgency to your doctor’s practice
Before you explore the alternative options, if you feel particularly unwell, make sure you convey this when speaking to the receptionist at your GP surgery.
This can be done by turning up in person rather than over the phone, and arriving first thing in the morning. By doing this you’re more likely to be given an emergency appointment, but be prepared to wait for your turn.
💡Not sure if you need a GP appointment? NHS England have launched a new campaign called Help Us Help You to help the public better understand the best course of action when winter illness sets in and how get the best out of their NHS. Visit www.nhs.uk/staywell for more information.
✔️ Speak to a pharmacist
If you still can’t get an appointment, head for the high street. Pharmacists are highly-trained healthcare professionals who can advise on health and wellbeing, as well as supply medicines to help you feel better.
Pharmacists can respond to symptoms and recommend medicines for common illnesses such as:
✔️ Call 111
NHS 111 is a free number that allows you to speak to a health professional, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They will listen to your symptoms and be able to assess what the best course of action is for you, whether that be advising you over the phone, arranging an emergency face-to-face appointment or even sending you an ambulance, depending on the severity of your illness.
✔️ Book an online consultation
If you’re pushed for time and need medical attention, head over to Google and search for an online doctor consultation. Netdoctor has no affiliation with any particular brand but you could try GP at Hand, a service that allows you to video call an NHS doctor. It’s quick and easy, but does require you to switch from your current GP to be able to use the service.
Alternatively, Babylon Health enables users to have 24/7 virtual consultations with doctors and health care professionals via text and video messaging. Once you’ve downloaded the app, you can use a number of features for free and you’ll only ever pay for GP consultations, prescriptions and health kits.
💡 Pharmacies tend to stay open longer than GP surgeries, so you can visit them out of office hours. Visit NHS.uk to locate your local pharmacy services.
✔️ Visit a walk-in centre
NHS walk-in centres tend to be open later and on weekends. You also don’t need to be registered or have an appointment in order to see a GP or nurse there. However, they usually operate on a first-come-first-serve basis, so be prepared to sit in the waiting room for a while.
✔️ Sore throat? Get a free swab test
The makers of Strepsils and Strefen have partnered with Superdrug Pharmacies to provide a free 10-minute sore throat consultation service across the country. Pop into a store near you and ask for a swab test to identify whether your sore throat is bacterial or viral. If your sore throat can’t be treated by antibiotics, the pharmacist will be able to provide advice on the most effective ways to treat your symptoms.
✔️ Seek private treatment
Private healthcare might be costly, but it will ensure that you can always skip the NHS queues and get medical help whenever you need it. For that reason, if you can afford it, it might be worth getting a private healthcare insurance plan, or even just seeking private treatment for a one-off appointment.