People often talk about 'primary' health care. But, what does it mean? Quite simply, it's the services that everyone has contact with, like your GP or dentist. These professionals do lots of the routine work, like treating common problems (e.g. flu, chest infection, etc.).
Sometimes you will see someone in primary care about a more more complex problem. It could be you have unusual symptoms or an illness that needs difficult treatment. Your GP will normally refer you to see someone else, often at a hospital. The staff at a hospital have more specialised skills (and equipment). They do not see everyone, just those who have particular problems. Hospitals are sometimes described as a 'secondary' service.
Why is this important?
It is useful to know how the health services works, so you can get the best from it. Staff at the primary care level are very knowledgeable about a wide range of problems. They also know where best to refer you to. They act as the 'gatekeeper' to other services. If you do need to see a specialist, you normally have to be referred by your GP. And, when you've been discharged by the specialist, your GP will normally continue with your care and treatment.
What to do if something is wrong
If it is an emergency then you need to go to the Accident & Emergency department of the nearest hospital (textphone 18000 for an ambulance).
If it is NOT an emergency then you can either make an appointment at your local doctors, or contact NHS Direct (textphone 0845 606 46 47). NHS Direct can give you advice and let you know what you should do. They have nurses who can ask you questions to find out what the problem is.
If you make an appointment at your local doctors then let them know if you want an interpreter. Under the Disability Discrimination Act they should make every effort to provide an interpreter. A lot of GP practices do not realise that they have a contract with an interpreting agency. If your GP practice refuses to try and get an interpreter then contact your local Patient Advice & Liaison Service (PALS).