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An easy way to register with a GP surgery

Dr Shanker Vijay, GP and Digital First Lead for London, explains why he is championing the national ‘Register with a GP surgery’ service and talks about improvements to the service.

It should be quick and simple for a patient to register with a GP surgery, but often it isn’t. Having worked in many GP surgeries, I’ve seen both patients and practice staff struggle with the process, leading to a poor experience for all. This can vary from patients being daunted when faced with dated, confusing and lengthy paper registration forms to busy practice staff having to find the time to deal with new registrations amongst all their other tasks.

An older man and younger man looking at the screen of a tablet together.

Thankfully, it is a great relief for everyone that the ‘Register with a GP surgery’ service has arrived. It is a free national solution for the online registration of new patients designed to provide a more user friendly and consistent experience to patients. It also cuts the burden on practices, as registering new patients can be a high volume and difficult task.

The service can be accessed through many ways, including the NHS website, NHS App and practice websites. Patients are asked a series of questions, which are then submitted electronically to the practice they want to register with.

More than 900 GP practices – about 14% of all practices in England – are already using Register with a GP surgery (up to 3 May 2023), with that  number growing every day. More than 240,000 people have used it to submit registration requests.

I’m a big advocate for it. I want to explain why and then explore some of its current limitations and its future. First, the benefits.

Why should practices use it?

1. Free and easy

It’s free for patients and GP surgeries to use.

The sign-up process for GP surgeries is extremely quick and easy. In my Digital First role, I’ve hosted several webinars for practices about the service where I issue a challenge at the start: could participants go live with the service by the end of my presentation? The answer is ‘yes’, many have!

Once signed up, they’re given a unique weblink for their practice that can be added to their practice website for patients to use.

2. Saves time

The Register with a GP surgery service can halve the time it takes to complete the registration process, saving up to 15 minutes per registration.

The national digital teams have done lots of user research to understand and address the most common challenges faced by practice staff.

As a result, the service has been designed to:

  • check if the patient falls in the practice catchment area – and highlights out-of-catchment registrations
  • check NHS numbers and match patients to their Personal Demographics Service record – the service has a 90% first time NHS number match rate
  • help patients correct errors when filling out the form

The online registration form is sent securely via NHSmail, where it is easy to copy-and-paste information into the surgery’s clinical IT system.

3. Standardised patient responses

The standardised question set improves data quality and requests all the essential patient registration information previously collected from both the GMS1 form and New Patient Health Questionnaire.

The digital format means the responses are easier to read and submitted in the correct format.

4. Accessible and inclusive

The service follows the latest accessibility guidelines and regulations. It is designed to reduce barriers to registration for patients in ‘seldom heard’ groups and is fully compatible with translator services such as Google Translate.

Vulnerable patients and those with physical access needs do not need to visit the GP surgery to register. People can also access the service at any time, including outside of working hours which means they can fit it in around their other responsibilities.

5. Maintained

I think all of us working in general practice have experienced how difficult and time-consuming it can be to keep abreast of the latest national policies – on top of our roles providing patient care.

The Register with a GP surgery service cuts that burden. The central team works with policy, security and legal experts to ensure the service always reflects current policy and GDPR regulation – and continually improves it based on user feedback. The service also benefits from ongoing live support.

6. More registrations

The service is integrated with the ‘Find a GP’ service on the NHS website and NHS App. This means that when people are presented with a list of surgeries in their catchment area, the ones that are signed up to Register with a GP surgery will have a ‘Register online with this GP’ link appearing under their contact details. We live in a ‘one-click’ culture and we know that many busy people want online solutions.

The limitations

There are a few limitations to the Register with a GP surgery service. For me, the main one is that the GP surgeries have only a limited ability to customise the questions for their local population. However, the national service is designed to minimise onerous questions for patients and therefore barriers to registration. And, as frontline professionals, we’re able to make suggestions to the national team. For example the service now includes improved questions about smoking and alcohol, and questions about patient height and weight are due to be added soon in response to practice feedback.

Additionally, there is no option for a patient to upload any identification. This complements the increasing use of NHS login – which has already sought proof of who you are. If GP surgeries feel they require any further information, they can supplement the Register with a GP surgery service with a local process that allows patients to submit their documents electronically.

However, it is worth noting that the need to submit ID is not viewed as an essential requirement and can be a significant barrier to registration.

What's next?

The Register with a GP surgery service continues to evolve and improve. There are a few pilots underway to automate the inputting of information into clinical IT systems. That will remove the step of copying and pasting patient details from NHSmail while awaiting full clinical system integration further down the line.

For those that need a non-digital way of registering with a GP surgery, a new paper registration form that is based on the online service is being piloted and due for release soon. This will help with the consistency of questions and answers received by the practice.

If you work in a GP surgery and are interested in using the Register with a GP surgery service, I encourage you to have a look at the online resource hub. There’s lots more information about the service and how to sign up.

The team are also hosting a dedicated webinar on 14 June 2023 from 4 to 5pm where practices and NHS colleagues interested in primary care digital transformation can find out more about the benefits of service adoption on an individual and system-wide level.  

If you are based in London, you can even reach out to me directly to see if I can help too!

Related subjects

Everyone should be able to register with a GP surgery. Senior User Researcher Tamara Farrar worked with seldom heard groups to ensure their needs were considered when designing a new registration service.
Kerrie Hughes, Lead Service Designer for the new ‘Register with a GP surgery’ service, says registration is more than just paperwork – it’s about giving more people access to healthcare and helping GP practices to provide great care.
David Evans, content designer for the Register with a GP surgery service, says it’s difficult to get accurate answers about people’s smoking and alcohol consumption – and explains what the team is doing to improve the way people assess their intake.


Last edited: 12 May 2023 2:24 pm