- Be clear about your symptoms in your own mind and jot them down so that you remember to mention them all.
- Include the things that ease or worsen your symptoms, such as warmth relieving pain and certain movements increasing it.
- Think of any questions you may want to ask and jot them down too.
- If your GP suggests tests, be sure that you understand them and check how long the results may be expected to take.
- If medication is prescribed, ensure you understand how and when it is to be taken and that you know why you are to take it.
- If you are given a hospital referral, be sure about which department you will be seen by and what outcome is hoped to be gained.
If after your appointment you feel that you have forgotten to say something important, or are not sure about everything that you were told, then ring the surgery to request to speak to your GP (a later telephone appointment may be arranged) or write a letter requesting that symptoms you forget to mention be added to your notes – I have done this myself and it has worked.
Should you be really unhappy with the outcome of an appointment, you can seek a second opinion by requesting an appointment with another doctor at your surgery, or get advice from NHS Direct at www.nhs.uk/nhsdirect or call 0845 4647.
If you are referred to a hospital consultant, you will probably be given a ‘choose and book’ letter, telling you which hospitals you can opt to attend. When making your decision don’t just consider the distance you will need to travel, but also research the hospitals involved and talk to anyone you know that may have experience of them. With this booking system you are able to agree to a date and time that suits you, so do have your diary/calendar available when you call to arrange your appointment.
Prepare yourself for your hospital appointment in much the same way as you did to see your GP, noting down points to raise and questions to ask. If your are unhappy with the result of this appointment, you can return to your GP with your concerns or consult the Patient Liaison team at the hospital you attended.
You can always think laterally! Some NHS departments now offer a self-referral system, for example my local authority offers physiotherapy via self-referral (Medway Community Healthcare www.medwaycommunityhealthcare.nhs.uk 01634 821560). As a former patient of my local physio department, I presented myself there with back pain (having had a disappointing consultant’s appointment) and was offered acupuncture, which started within 24 hours!
So, to get the most from the NHS, be precise about how you feel and what you would like to be done, but also be prepared to help yourself and explore all the options available.