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Discrimination when registering with a GP

This advice applies to Scotland

GP surgeries mustn’t discriminate against you if you want to register as a patient.

Read this page to find out more about discrimination when you want to register with a GP.

Your right to register with a GP

You have the right to register with a GP of your choice. If you're staying somewhere in the UK for less than three months or have no permanent address, you can register on a temporary basis.

If you’ve been unable to register and you feel you’ve been treated unfairly in some way, this may be unlawful discrimination. If you’ve experienced unlawful discrimination you may be able to do something about it.  

Have you suffered unlawful discrimination?

The law which says you mustn’t be discriminated against is called the Equality Act 2010. Discrimination which is against the Equality Act is unlawful. This means you can take action in the civil courts.

If you think a GP surgery has discriminated against you and you want to take action about it, you should check whether the discrimination is unlawful.

You can follow these steps to check whether unlawful discrimination has taken place:

  • why you are being treated unfairly - unfair treatment only counts as unlawful discrimination if it's for certain reasons
  • who is treating you unfairly - unfair treatment only counts as unlawful discrimination if it's carried out by certain people
  • what kind of behaviour has taken place - only certain types of unfair treatment can be unlawful discrimination
  • how is the treatment unfair  - you need to identify what kind of discrimination the unfair treatment could be.

Why are you being treated unfairly?

Remember, it’s only unlawful discrimination if you’re treated unfairly because of one of these things:

  • age
  • disability
  • gender reassignment
  • pregnancy and maternity
  • race
  • religion or belief
  • sex
  • sexual orientation.

The Equality Act calls these things protected characteristics.

Who is treating you unfairly?

GP surgeries have a duty not to discriminate against you. This includes all the medical staff, such as doctors and nurses. It also includes non-medical staff, like receptionists, security officers and cleaners.

Examples of unlawful discrimination when you want to register with a GP

A GP surgery says you can’t register as a patient

If a GP surgery says you can’t register as a patient and it's because of a protected characteristic, it's direct discrimination under the Equality Act. Direct discrimination is where you're treated differently and worse than someone else because of a protected characteristic - for example, because you're black or gay.

It doesn’t matter what the reason or intention behind the discrimination is. It may be because of prejudice, but it could also be for other reasons, like ignorance.


Your local GP tells you they can’t register you as you’re Polish. This is because the receptionist wrongly believes only UK nationals can register with a GP. This is discrimination because of race, even though it’s not motivated by prejudice. You’re being treated differently and worse than someone else, simply because of your national origin, which falls under the protected characteristic of race.

Your surgery has a rule which makes it difficult for you to register

Some GP surgeries may have rules and policies which apply to all patients alike, such as a requirement to provide proof of address or NHS medical card when registering. If you can't register because of a requirement like this, it could also be unlawful discrimination. You would have to show that other people who share your protected characteristic also find it difficult to meet the requirement.

The Equality Act calls this indirect discrimination.


A GP surgery requires all new patients to provide a proof of address when they register. This applies to all new patients in the same way. But Gypsies and Travellers are less likely to be able to provide proof of address and therefore, they’ll find it more difficult to register.

This could be indirect discrimination against Gypsies and Travellers because of the protected characteristic of race. The rule seems fair, but it has a worse effect on this particular group of people.

It’s possible to justify indirect discrimination if there’s a good enough reason for it. If something is justified, it doesn’t count as discrimination under the Equality Act.

You’re subjected to rude or hostile behaviour

You may experience rude behaviour or remarks, or someone at the surgery may make fun of you when you come to register as a patient. This is a type of behaviour which can be unlawful discrimination under the Equality Act, if it’s related to a protected characteristic.

This is called harassment. Harassment is a form of discrimination and is unlawful.


You’ve come to register as a patient with your daughter who has a learning disability. When you’re waiting in the queue, you hear the receptionist make offensive remarks to another staff member about your daughter’s disability. This is harassment related to disability.

When you complain about the harassment to the receptionist, she says you can’t register. You know they’re taking on patients as you called earlier that day to enquire. This is also a type of behaviour which is unlawful under the Equality Act. It’s called victimisation.

Taking action

If you’ve been discriminated against you can take action under the Equality Act. You can make a complaint or if necessary you can make a discrimination claim in court.

Other things you can do if you've been treated unfairly

Charter of Patient Rights and Responsibilities

Some of your rights as an NHS patient are set out in this charter. This includes the right to choose and register with a GP. It also explains that you should not be discriminated against by NHS staff and must be treated with dignity and respect for your human rights. You can see the Charter at

Next steps

Other useful information

Equality Advisory Support Service (EASS)

If you have experienced discrimination, you can get help from the EASS discrimination helpline.

Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC)

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