Patients under the age of 16 should normally be accompanied by an adult when seeing a doctor or collecting medicines. However, under certain circumstances, patients below this age may be seen by a doctor or nurse without parental knowledge to discuss any health matters, including contraception and sexual health.
Seeing the GP alone: making the transition
At the beginning of adolescence, you’ll generally be fully responsible for your child’s healthcare. But by the end of adolescence, your child is assumed to be able to make decisions about their health for themselves. This includes seeing a doctor on their own, confidentially.
You can help your child make the transition, but they will need your support as they gain independence.
Encouraging your child’s ‘health independence’
As your child moves towards ‘health independence’, you’ll need to feel confident they have the skills to manage their own health, and to get the best health and wellbeing outcomes they can.
Your child won’t become an expert manager of their health overnight- just as with other skills, they will need practice.
Working out the right time for you both
While your child is still in early adolescence, it can be a good idea for them to see the doctor or nurse alone for part of a consultation. Generally, doctors who see adolescent children will try to arrange for this to happen. This time can be gradually increased. By later adolescence, your child will probably be comfortable seeing the doctor for the whole consultation by themselves.
When should this start?
After all, one 13 year old might want to try seeing a doctor alone, whereas the idea might make another child the same age feel very stressed. It’s something you and your child can work out together. Talk to your child to see what they are comfortable with, and check again before appointments to see how they are feeling about it.
Benefits of your child seeing a doctor alone
Seeing a doctor without you there creates confidentiality for your child, which is at the heart of the doctor-patient relationship. Confidentiality gives the doctor an extra strategy to help your child talk openly. And it can help the doctor reinforce the vital role you play in your child’s life, health and wellbeing.
As adults, when we go to the doctor we expect that our health issues will be kept private. Knowing this helps to make right diagnosis, offer the best advice and provide the right treatment.
Your child needs to build up that same sense of trust- and they can do it through seeing the doctor alone.
When your child sees a trusted doctor alone they are more likely to be honest about their worries, such as bullying at school, relationships or substance use. They are also more likely to ask questions about sensitive matters, giving the doctor the chance to offer guidance in issues that might come up in the future. This also gives your child the chance to practice communicating with a doctor alone, a skill they will need for the rest of their lives. And it helps them take greater responsibility for their health.