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When should you go to the doctor?

Find an expert - Who are you going to call?

While it can be a good resource for lifestyle tips, the internet is never the right place for a medical diagnosis. However, because of the current pressures the NHS faces, many people have been putting off seeing their GP.

Doctors and nurses are urging the public not to delay seeking medical advice and support from a qualified professional. If you put off speaking to your GP about something that’s concerning you, there is a risk that the issue could become worse and harder to treat in future.

Benenden Health’s Society Matron Cheryl Lythgoe said: “If you have a medical issue that is causing concern it is important to discuss and receive accurate information – this will allow you to make an informed decision on how to proceed. Never delay in asking those questions as conditions are far easier to investigate, diagnose and treat in their early stages.”

Why is it challenging to access our GPs?

Due to the high volume of demand, with not enough staff to manage this, GP surgeries have had to alter their method of access for patients to allow safe, quick access for all.

Many now offer telephone or online appointments in the first instance to ensure those who need to be physically seen aren’t put at increased risk. Chatting with a clinician over the phone or online gives many patients the ability to address any health and wellbeing concerns without having to see the clinician face to face.  If your clinician needs to see you they will arrange an appointment for you to attend the surgery. 

Whilst sometimes it can feel that the primary care teams are putting up barriers to you seeing the clinicians, access has been altered so that they can support their patients in the most efficient manner. 

Where can I go for medical advice and support?

Your medicine cabinet

A well stocked medicine cabinet can help you to be prepared for many common ailments - colds, headaches and minor injuries. The NHS offers useful advice on what should be your medicine cabinet essentials. Your local pharmacist may also be able to recommend things to keep in your medicine cabinet and first aid kit.


Pharmacists don’t just issue prescriptions, they can also give advice on minor illnesses such as sore throats, coughs, colds, flu, hay fever, earache, stomach complaints, skin rashes, cystitis, thrush, and aches and pains. You don’t need to make an appointment to see a pharmacist, you can just walk in. If the pharmacist thinks you need to see a GP they’ll tell you. Some pharmacists even have private consultation rooms so you don’t have to have embarrassing conversations on the shop floor. 

Benenden Health 24/7 GP Helpline

This is available to all Benenden Health members and their immediate families. Make an appointment day or night for a telephone or e-consultation and you can discuss your medical concerns with a GP who can advise on a diagnosis and the best course of action. Although the GP can prescribe some medications over the phone (charges apply), they cannot make referrals to specialists or for further tests. To make an appointment, call our 24/7 GP Helpline with your membership number to hand.

An appointment with your GP

If a pharmacist can’t help, and you don’t need urgent emergency care, you’ll need to make an appointment to see your NHS GP. They can diagnose illnesses and conditions, prescribe medications, refer you on for specialist care or tests, and manage chronic conditions. They can also carry out minor surgeries such as cleaning up infected wounds, change dressings and administer injections for complaints such as painful joints.

The pandemic has adapted the ways of accessing the GP services. NHS figures revealed that 48% of GP appointments in May 2020 were carried out over the phone, compared with just 14% in February. Nowadays, depending on what support you need - your GP might offer you a remote appointment online or over the phone.

NHS 111

NHS 111 is for when you urgently need medical help or advice, but it’s not a life-threatening situation – for example, when you think you’ve broken your leg or the person you’re with is acting in a very confused manner. You will be put through to a fully trained adviser who will assess the symptoms. Depending on what’s needed, the adviser might then send an ambulance for you, direct you to a local service, connect you to a nurse or GP, or give you self-care advice.


The accident and emergency department is for just that - genuine life threatening emergencies such as severe illness, bleeding, a loss of consciousness, chest pains, breathing difficulties, poisoning or major trauma. Ambulance crews will take patients to A&E but you can also go by yourself if your condition requires it.


Keep 999 for when there’s an acute medical emergency and someone’s life is at risk. For some conditions, such as a suspected heart attack or stroke, every second counts so call immediately.


About our healthcare

Benenden Health provides affordable private healthcare for everyone, giving you access to services such as our 24/7 GP Helpline and Mental Health Helpline straight away. Once you’ve been a member for six months you can request access to diagnostic consultations and tests.

You'll also have access to a wealth of health and wellbeing articles, videos and advice on a range of health issues.

Medically reviewed by Cheryl Lythgoe in June 2023.