Your local health centre is always prepared to see you if you are ill or experiencing a problem. The centre may also be called a general practitioner or family doctor clinic. If you are suffering from some kind of health problem and need care, a health centre is generally the place to begin. They will treat you immediately and refer you to a specialist clinic if they can’t provide all the services you require.
You don’t have to go to your own local health centre but can choose another one in the county or region where you are registered as living, or even somewhere else. Those rules apply to all health centres run by a region or county council as well as private ones with which the authorities have agreements.
You can also decide to enroll at a specific health centre.
Health centres handle a large percentage of outpatient care, including monitoring newborn infants and treatment of short-term illnesses such as tonsillitis and a sore throat, along with diabetes and other chronic conditions. They also provide excellent support if you want to make lifestyle changes like stopping smoking, losing weight, etc. Rehabilitation after an injury or illness is another service that health centres frequently offer. If the doctor determines that you need more specialized care or rehabilitation, s(he) will refer you to another outpatient or specialist clinic.
You can call a health centre any time during the week to schedule an appointment. Many centres also set aside certain hours of the week to drop in without an appointment. All of the centres provide healthcare advice on the phone and can arrange an appointment at home under certain circumstances.
A number of them offer emergency services in the evening, at weekends and occasionally at night. Usually they insist that you call and make an appointment. In some parts of the country, all emergency services are provided at hospitals.
Responsibilities of a general practitioner
Most doctors affiliated with health centres are general practitioners (also referred to as family doctors). A general practitioner is also a specialist in general medicine.
A general practitioner will assess your problem, determine its cause and treat both short-term and long-term illnesses that are not serious chronic diseases. (S)he will also refer you to any hospital or other specialists that you might need. If you are suffering from mild or moderate depression, general practitioners are able to offer treatment. The idea is that you will be able to see the same doctor for any problem so that the two of you can develop a relationship of mutual trust.
General practitioners also provide preventive care, particularly when it comes to support for making lifestyle changes. They can help you stop smoking, lose weight, drink alcohol on a more healthy basis, etc.
Both health centres and hospitals may have residents or interns - doctors who are still in training. Internships last for two years after completion of the basic curriculum in medicine. Each intern is supervised by a general practitioner.
Residents are undergoing training to become specialists. Those affiliated with health centres are normally in training to become general practitioners, but they may have another specialist area. A residency lasts for approximately five years.
Other professionals at health centres
The staff of a health centre may include district nurses, assistant nurses, physical therapists, midwives and medical secretaries in addition to doctors. Some centres offer the services of occupational therapists, psychologists, counsellors and dietitians.
Pediatric and prenatal care are often available. A number of centres house laboratories that employ various analysts and assistants. The cashier’s desk or front counter is often staffed by a receptionist or medical secretary who also performs an assortment of administrative tasks.
District nurses have advanced training in their field. Their practical responsibilities include administering vaccinations, distributing medications and dressing wounds. They facilitate meetings of smoking cessation groups and engage in other efforts to prevent health problems from developing. Another frequent task of district nurses is to treat and administer tests at the homes of patients who cannot make it to the health centre.
They often run clinics of their own for people with diabetes, asthma and certain other chronic diseases. They perform certain kinds of treatment and are authorized to prescribe certain kinds of medications.
Assistant nurses cooperate closely with doctors and district nurses. They take blood samples, perform ECGs, dress wounds, etc. Many health centres also send them out to see patients at home. Sometimes they work at the front counter.
Physical therapists normally threat people with muscular difficulties. These patients may have problems in their back or neck, or they may need rehabilitation after an injury, stroke, seizure or other illness. The treatment may include advice about relaxation and other exercises that can be performed at home. Physical therapists are authorized to prescribe exercise programs to prevent disease or relieve symptoms.
You can see a physical therapist without obtaining a referral from a doctor.
Naprapaths and chiropractors
Naprapaths and chiropractors also treat muscular pain. They work primarily with their hands and arms. While some health centres employ chiropractors, it is becoming increasingly common for naprapaths and chiropractors in private practice to have agreements with the various county councils.
Occupational therapists help people with disabilities try out various medical devices. They can make it easier to identify practical aids for performing activities in their daily life, such as making a home wheelchair accessible.
Counsellors provide social and psychological support. Sessions with people who are experiencing crises are one effective approach. Counsellors also offer financial and employment advice when you are ill. They have a degree in social work plus advanced training.
A few health centres have psychologists on their staff. In addition to psychological counselling, some of them are able to provide psychotherapy.
Their normal task at a health centre is to offer short-term support in dealing with a difficult situation you are going through. They may also administer psychological testing for use in rehabilitation assessment and similar investigations.
Like counsellors, they are trained to facilitate group sessions on stress management and other lifestyle issues.
A dietitian is an expert in eating properly. They offer advice to people who want to gain or lose weight or change their diet in the face of diabetes, allergies and other chronic conditions.