If you are unsure whether you need an appointment, you can call your GP for advice. Alternatively, if you think you may need treatment urgently, call NHS 111 to seek advice on the best place to receive treatment.

What is a GP?

A GP is often the first place people visit with health problems, but this is not always the best choice.

Book an appointment with your GP if you are still feeling unwell after a few days of experiencing symptoms. You can also access a GP 24 hours-a-day through your usual surgery, which will direct you to an out-of-hours service to see a health professional in evenings or at weekends.

Some areas have walk-in centres or minor injuries units, where booking an appointment is not necessary. These services provide treatment for minor injuries or illnesses. Alternatively, if you're not sure where to go, call 111 to seek advice on the health support you need and the best place to go in your local area.

Remember, you should only go to A&E if your illness is life-threatening.

When should I visit my GP?

Choose your GP if you have been unwell with a persistent cough or a very painful sore throat for a number of days, as this may be a bacterial infection. Minor coughs, colds and sore throats are most likely to be a virus and cannot be treated with antibiotics, so your GP will advise you to visit your pharmacy, or self-care.

When shouldn't I visit my GP?

You should not visit your GP for minor ailments. A disproportionate amount of GP time - around one in five appointments - is taken up by people with this type of complaint. This makes it more difficult for people in greater need to get treatment.

Visiting your GP when self-care is the best way to treat an illness or condition wastes time and money. It wastes your time, the GP's time and costs the NHS an unnecessary £2billion each year, which could be better spent on other services.

You should only seek advice from your GP if you have persistent recurring problems that are not getting better with self-care.

Antibiotics will not make you better if you have a virus. They only work on infections caused by bacteria, such as pneumonia or kidney infections, funghi and some parasites. People with some skin complaints, such as moderately severe acne, may also be prescribed antibiotics.

Most colds, coughs and sore throats will not get better with antibiotics, and cannot be treated by a GP. The only cure is time, but self-care can help ease your symptoms.

Other minor ailments that should be treated at home include:

  • headaches/migraines
  • back pain
  • period pain
  • sickness and diarrhoea
  • muscle or ligament pulls, strains and twists

For most people, self-care is the best way to treat an illness or bug. This means getting plenty of rest, drinking fluids and taking a recommended dose of over-the-counter fever- or pain-reducing medication.