We can’t register at two different GPs as students and it’s completely ridiculous
“I had to find a way to measure my own blood pressure”
When Clara* found a lump under a mole on her back, the first thing she did was ring her uni GP. She emailed in a photo, and her GP told her that he was sufficiently worried to want to check it out in person. However, she was at home half-way across the UK and was not due back at uni for another two or three months. He suggested registering as a visitor with nearer GP practice. She did so, and despite sending the same pictures, she was told a face-to-face appointment was unnecessary.
“Being told a mole is worrying enough. To need an appointment was terrifying. To be told by someone else it wasn’t needed was infuriating! I felt like I was being made to choose between getting a train up to my uni GP and exposing myself to COVID for no good reason or accepting the risk of literal cancer. My mum had breast cancer when I was younger so I’m understandably a bit paranoid. I just feel like I’ve fallen through the cracks.”
Stories like Clara’s are commonplace amongst students. We’re not allowed to be registered at two GPs at once despite many of us spending significant portions of the year in two different places. You can be registered to vote in two addresses at once but not at two GPs. Not only is this utterly nonsensical, it’s putting students like Clara’s mental and physical wellbeing at risk.
True, you can register as a visitor, but this is a temporary sticking plaster for anyone with complex medical needs. For those with chronic health conditions, disabilities, or people just having emergencies like Clara, this just simply isn’t good enough. You aren’t guaranteed appointments, specialist referrals, or the options that would be available to you at your home practice.
This is exactly what happened to Maria*. She noticed some bleeding during sex whilst at home (400 miles from her GP at uni) so phoned her local sexual health clinic.
“It was frightening but I knew it wasn’t anything nasty like an STD as I’d been tested before lockdown. The sexual health nurse I spoke to was able to diagnose me with a gynaecological condition where the pill can cause your cervix to go a bit soft. It would’ve been easy to diagnose with an internal examination but the clinic was only able to offer an STD test (which came back all negative). I was told I’d need to book a GP appointment to get a specialist gynaecologist referral to treat it, but my old home GP practice refused to accept me as a visitor as they were full.”
Because of lockdown, many spent nearly six months at home without guaranteed comprehensive medical care. Being able to register as a visitor is reliant on the goodwill and availability of individual practices. If this goodwill isn’t there, then students can end up stuck.
The alternative is trying to access services through uni GPs – something that isn’t always easy. The move to appointments over the phone due to the pandemic has made this less difficult but still can students face unnecessary hurdles to accessing care.
Zara* realised she was running out of her prescription for the pill during lockdown. After a quick bit of googling, she realised she would need to phone her uni GP to book a phone appointment, find a way to measure her blood pressure, and then send a stamped and addressed envelope to her GP to post back a prescription. However, there was one thing in her way: she was working nights at her local supermarket.
“I would’ve had to ring my GP when I should have been asleep to be given a phone appointment when again I probably would have been sleeping. I also had no idea how to measure my own blood pressure and seemed like it would take forever to get a phone appointment and even longer to actually receive a prescription. In the end, I decided to use an online pharmacy service – it was £30 for three months of the pill but seemed infinitely easier than jumping through all these hoops. If I could’ve just used my GP at home, there would have been less faff and less waiting around.”
Female students in particular are affected by this as they often need to get prescriptions for contraception or to treat side effects from them. Female students are ending up being stuck between a rock and a hard place: having to chose between paying for something privately that they should be entitled to for free on the NHS or following a Hansel and Gretel trail of bureaucracy.
Being unable to register at two GPs causes an unnecessary amount of aggravation, creates unnecessary financial costs, and is generally an unnecessary headache. Students can’t control chronic illnesses, disabilities, emergencies – or just being a woman. It’s time this was acknowledged by the NHS. It’s simply a matter of prioritising students’ lives over paperwork.
*Names have been changed to protect students’ privacy