GPs & primary care

10 mins read

This advice applies across the UK.

Primary care is the local healthcare that we receive from General Practitioner (GP) practices, NHS walk-in centres, dentists, pharmacists and opticians. Primary healthcare provides the first point of contact in the healthcare system. It is the route by which we most commonly access other parts of the NHS, for example, hospital care.

In this article

General practitioners (GPs)

Your GP is often the first doctor you talk to if you have any concerns about your child. GPs usually work in GP practices as part of a team, which can include:

Your GP surgery can provide a wide range of services, including:

Your GP might refer your child to other health professionals for more specialist knowledge.

GPs keep a medical record for all their patients. This includes information about any medical conditions, tests and prescribed medicines. Other specialists should keep your GP informed about the results of tests carried out and recommended treatments.

You can find out how to register with a GP by going to the following sites:

Why it’s important to build a relationship with your GP

Disabled children can get all the usual childhood illnesses and infections. And childhood illness can have different and sometimes greater impacts on a child with an existing condition or disability. GPs are “generalist” doctors. While they may not have a wide knowledge of all childhood disabilities, they know a lot about general childhood illnesses.

It can be tempting to want to seek advice from a paediatrician (specialist children’s consultants) when your child is ill. If your child needs to see someone with specialist knowledge, their GP will refer them to a paediatrician or other specialist doctor.

GPs receive every letter, report or result that relates to your child. They will know about your child’s appointments and about the wider family, if they are all registered at the same surgery. Getting to know your GP and encouraging them to get to know your child will help them provide holistic support to your whole family. They will be able to help you navigate the wider health and care system.

Getting your child on the learning disability register

If your child has a learning disability, ask your GP to place them on their learning disability register. This will mean their GP invites them for an annual health check when they are 14 years old. Read more about annual health checks for people with a learning disability.

Tips for building a relationship with your GP

A supportive GP and surgery staff can reduce the stress of managing your child when they are unwell. If you find that the GP surgery doesn’t accommodate your requests, you can always change the practice.

Read more about reasonable adjustments at GP appointments and more about getting the most out of your GP appointment.

Can I change my GP?

You can change your GP at any time without giving a reason to the new surgery or your old GP. You may be able to see another GP at the same surgery if you prefer.

If you are unhappy about the service your GP surgery is providing, or you disagree with how your GP wants to treat a health problem, try to speak to them about it before deciding to change GP. You can always ask to speak to the GP practice manager instead if you feel more comfortable doing so.

What if my local GP surgery refuses to register my child?

A surgery can refuse an application to register you or your child if you don’t live in the practice area or if it is not accepting new patients. They must have reasonable grounds for refusal and give you those in writing. 

If this happens, you can try registering with a different GP. The national health service might be able to help find you another GP surgery itself. If you disagree with the decision, you can make a complaint.

Read more about registering with a GP and changing surgeries.

Health visitors

Health visitors are trained nurses who can offer support and advice to parents of new babies. They are usually based in children’s centres, GP surgeries, or community or health centres. They also advise on feeding, sleep and teething.

In England, health visitors carry out a minimum of five universal home visits to check on your baby. These are usually at 10-14 days; 3-5 weeks; 6-8 weeks; 9 months; one year and at 2-2.5 years old. They will check your baby’s weight, height and whether they are up-to-date with their vaccinations. Reviews are an ideal opportunity to ask questions and discuss any concerns you have, as health visitors often work as part of the GP surgery team.

Read more about health visitors and child development reviews in England.

In Scotland, the Universal Health Visiting Pathway provides support from pre-birth to preschool. Families get 11 visits within the first year of life and three Child Health Reviews between 13 months and 4-5 years. The health visitor acts as the baby’s ‘named professional’ and first point of contact for all health and wellbeing and child protection issues for children under five.

See more about health visitor home visits in Scotland and Getting it right for every child (GIRFEC).

In Northern Ireland, families with a child under the age of five have a named health visitor. Find out more at Family Support NI.

The Health Visitor service in Wales includes a Flying Start health visitor programme targeted at vulnerable families. Read more about health visitors in Wales 


It’s important to have your child’s teeth checked regularly to help find health problems early and treat them.

Dental examinations are free for everyone in Scotland. They’re free for under 25s in Wales. And they’re free for under 18s, or under 19s if in full-time education, in England and Northern Ireland.

To find information about dentists in your area, you can search online at:

Dental practices can take private and NHS patients, and most take both.

To get NHS dental treatment, contact a practice providing NHS dentistry and ask for an NHS appointment. When accepted for treatment, you will be a patient of that provider for the duration of your treatment course.

On future occasions, you can choose to use the same dentist, another dentist under the same provider, or even another provider.

Urgent and out-of-hours dental treatment

If you think your child might need urgent treatment, contact your dentist on the usual number. They will usually have an answerphone message telling you where to go. You could also call the NHS non-emergency number on 111.

Community Dental Service (CDS)

The Community Dental Service (CDS) in England and the Public Dental Service (PDS) in Scotland provide treatment for disabled people. This includes children and adults with learning disabilities, mental health needs or other conditions that may prevent them from visiting a local dental practice.

Some CDS will accept a self referral, while others will only accept a referral from your GP or a General Dental Practitioner.

Referral to the PDS in Scotland is usually made by your dentist or another health professional. To find out how to access your nearest CDS/PDS, contact your GP or local dentist.

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Opticians (also known as optometrists)

Opticians test the quality of their patient’s vision and eye health. They can also prescribe and fit glasses and contact lenses. They are trained to recognise abnormalities and signs of any eye disease. If necessary, they will refer patients onto a specialist doctor or eye surgeon for further advice and treatment.

Sight tests are free for childen under 16 (or under 19 in full-time education) in England, Northern Ireland and Wales. They are free for everyone in Scotland.

Across the UK, you can get free vouchers for glasses or contact lenses if aged under 16, or under 19 and in full-time education.

Instead of going to an optician, your child might be able to have their eyes tested at the local eye hospital, depending on their needs and the services in your local area. Talk to your optometrist, optician, GP or paediatrician. They can advise you about the most appropriate arrangement for an eye test.

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Audiology (hearing)

An audiologist carries out hearing tests and works with children who have hearing difficulties. They can advise on aids to improve hearing, and can help a child obtain them if they need them. Audiologists will continue to monitor your child and refer to other services if needed.

Support could include training in good deaf awareness for school staff, support from a specialist Teacher of the Deaf, changes to teaching, learning and support strategies, assistive listening equipment, and improving acoustics to create good listening environments.

All children’s hearing tests are free. More information about audiology services can be found by going to:

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