Ask Sam letter


To Sam

Seeing a GP

Hi Sam,

I would like to see a GP about getting help for my mental health. Its been declining rapidly for a couple years now and I have finally got the courage to get help. So I know someone who works for my registered GP center and Iasked them if they could set up an appointment for me but unfortunately I was under 16 and was told that i could and I need to take a competency test from a doctor. I have done a lot of research before hand and don't think this is needed as I think I am competent to make my own decisions without a parent or guardian. I am desperate to find a way of getting around this without anyone knowing. What do i do?

Ask Sam


Hi there,

Doctors are there to help, but it’s okay to feel nervous or scared about seeing a doctor, and to want to keep what you talk about private.

There is no reason why you can’t ask to see your GP by yourself. Your GP might want to find out why and might encourage you to tell your parent or carer. There can be a lot of confusion around what age you can get help from a doctor. There are NHS guidelines that doctors and surgeries are supposed to follow. These guidelines say that everyone - no matter what age - has a right to confidential medical advice, but gives some guidelines on what the limits of this are. Nobody is perfect and sometimes you might be given bad or wrong information, which is why it’s important to know your rights.

There are actually two different issues to talk about here - confidentiality and competency. Confidentiality is when someone’s able to keep things just between you and them. You have the right to confidentiality from your GP, even if you’re under 16. They’re not supposed to tell anyone that you’ve visited them except if they feel you’re in danger. Childline has advice about talking to your doctor about private stuff to help you decide what you’re comfortable talking about.

When your GP talks about competency, they mean being able to make medical decisions for yourself. Your age can affect how well you understand your options, and might mean you need more help and support when deciding on treatment.

When you turn 16, the NHS considers you old enough to make your own medical decisions. The only time this isn't the case is if you're under 18 and refusing a treatment that would save your life. If you’re under 16, the doctor needs to be sure you're able to understand the decisions you’re making about your health. If you can show that you understand what you're being told then it’s your right to be treated, and your decision about treatment can be kept confidential.

Something to keep in mind is that being competent doesn't mean knowing everything about your medical problem. It's okay to ask questions if you don't understand. Asking questions is a way of showing that you're able to make decisions because you’re thinking about all the different sides of an issue.

If your doctor decides that you might need more support to understand the issue you’re having or to decide on the right treatment, they’ should still keep your visit confidential. , If you’re worried about someone finding out, the best thing to do is talk to them about confidentiality at the start of your appointment, and ask them to explain how it works.

I hope this letter has helped answer some of your questions. If you ever want to talk about what’s worrying you, or practice what you’ll say to your GP, you can always talk to one of our counsellors. Childline also has lots of advice about visiting your doctor, which might answer any more questions you have.

Thanks for the letter, take care.


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