Answers to questions put to the College by women and their carers
These FAQs are mostly helpful for those living in the UK. We've divided the FAQs into three sections for ease of use:
- FAQs about the RCOG and doctors in O&G
- FAQs about your condition and treatment
- FAQs about your appointment
FAQs about the RCOG and doctors in O&G
The RCOG is an independent membership organisation with more than 16,000 members worldwide. The RCOG’s main role is providing training and continuing professional development for obstetricians and gynaecologists, and for other health professionals working in women’s health, and creating clinical guidelines to set standards in women’s health. The College also organises a diploma examination for general practitioners.
The RCOG also works to raise the profile of women’s health issues at national and international level. Fellows and Members of the College help with informing and developing government policy on women’s health. A growing part of the College’s work is informing the public about women’s health and issues related to it.
Find out about the history of the College, and about the RCOG’s current work to improve women’s health care worldwide.
Obstetricians and gynaecologists are specialist doctors who work in women’s health care.
- Obstetrics deals with problems that arise in maternity care, treating any complications of pregnancy and childbirth and any that arise after the birth. Obstetricians work alongside midwives, whose speciality is usually normal pregnancy and delivery. Obstetricians may see some women before conception to plan their pregnancy.
- Gynaecology is the care of women with problems of the female reproductive system (ovaries, tubes, womb, cervix, vagina). Some gynaecologists specialise in urogynaecology (bladder incontinence), reproductive medicine (fertility problems and recurrent miscarriage), colposcopy (dealing with abnormal smears), gynae-oncology (cancer of the uterus, fallopian tubes and ovaries), contraception and menopause.
Around the world, most specialists work in both obstetrics and gynaecology. However, a growing number work in one particular area. In most countries, obstetrician/gynaecologists do not undertake breast care – specialist breast surgeons who have had training in general surgery usually deal with this.
Both obstetricians and gynaecologists care for women who have had a miscarriage.
Please see the Who is your doctor? page for an overview of the different types of doctor you may see in the UK.
Titles and letters differ around the world. In addition, some doctors don’t follow the usual pattern.
All medical practitioners are doctors. Traditionally, fully qualified surgeons (including obstetricians and gynaecologists) title themselves Mr, Mrs, Ms or Miss, because originally surgeons were barbers and not doctors. However, this title does not mean the person is a consultant but rather that they have passed their royal college examination.
Some medical doctors have the title ‘Professor’, which means they have specialised in research as well as working as a doctor. However, not all ‘Doctors’ are medically qualified – they may have passed the scientific qualification of PhD (Doctor of Philosophy).
The letters after a doctor’s name are usually qualifications, although a small number will have honours such as the MBE.
Each country has it own system. The ones below are those seen most frequently among obstetricians/gynaecologists and general practitioners in the UK.
What they mean
MB ChB, MB BCh, MB BS
These letters stand for Bachelor of Medicine or Bachelor of Surgery.
This is the basic medical qualification a medical student gains at the end of 5 years in medical school. It allows the student to enter supervised medical practice as a foundation doctor.
These letters stand for Bachelor of Science/Master of Science.
Many doctors have some pure science training as well training in clinical science.
These letters stand for Doctor of Medicine.
In the UK and many Commonwealth countries, this stands for a research qualification. This is a higher degree than MB but it doesn’t mean the doctor is more clinically trained – it simply means they have had research training.
In the USA and some other countries, the MD is the basic medical degree, and the equivalent of the UK MB.
These letters stand for Member/Fellow of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.
Read the RCOG membership categories for further information.
These letters stand for Certificate of Completion of Training.
The CCT is the Government license to practice a particular speciality of medicine.
These letters stand for Diploma of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.
This means the doctor has passed the RCOG’s exam which has been specially designed for general practitioners.
These letters stand for Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons.
These letters stand for Member of the Royal College of Physicians.
In the UK every medical practitioner has to be registered with the General Medical Council (GMC). The GMC’s main responsibility is to regulate doctors to ensure good medical practice and to decide if a doctor is allowed to see patients or not. If a doctor behaves unprofessionally or is technically poor, the GMC can warn the doctor, advise more supervised training or remove her/him from the Medical Register (known as ‘being struck off’).
The GMC keeps an up-to-date register of all doctors licensed to practice and aims to ensure they maintain the standards the public and the medical profession expect. You can check a doctor’s credentials on the Medical Register, a database on the GMC website. The website tells you whether a doctor is allowed to practise or not, but at present it does not say whether the doctor is keeping up-to-date.
For details of how to find out if your doctor is up-to-date, please read the RCOG's information for patients about revalidation.
The RCOG sets standards for clinical care and training. If you have any comments on how you’ve been treated, you need to contact the consultant in charge of your case, and/or the hospital trust, and or the hospital’s Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS). The RCOG doesn’t have a role in the management of individual patients.
FAQs about your condition and treatment
Your general practitioner (GP) will know if a specialist offers the treatment locally or can make enquiries by writing to the clinical director of the department of O&G at a hospital.
NHS Choices provides a range of information about NHS services. You can search by:
- Hospital – by location
- Consultant – by name, by specialty and by location
- Surgical procedure – by procedure and by location
- Department – by department name and by location
The Specialist Info website also provides an online directory of consultants and GPs with information about the services offered.
If none of the above are helpful, you can try searching on the internet further by putting the name of the treatment and hospital into a search engine.
Please note that the RCOG does not have any input into any of the websites linked to above and is not able to endorse or recommend individual clinicians. Please see our website terms and conditions for more information.
- Ask your specialist for information leaflets
- Local libraries have sections on health matters with books and articles
- The RCOG website has many leaflets on conditions and treatments especially written for the public
- The NHS Choices website has detailed information on more than 850 condition, or call the NHS 111 service free of charge by dialling ‘1 1 1’ from any phone
- The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) website publishes guidance including information notes for patients
- The BBC website has a section on health issues, including a section on pregnancy
- HealthTalkOnline is another website that has a lot of information on women’s health and healthcare.
- Scientific information is available on websites such as the RCOG (for guidelines), PubMed (for individual scientific articles) and Cochrane (for systematic reviews)
Yes. You’ll be aware that not all information on the internet is helpful, or applicable to your own situation, but if you find something that may be useful then do share it with your GP or the hospital doctor during the consultation. Doctors are normally keen to help patients understand information they have found themselves. It’s extremely difficult to know of every new development, and occasionally patients find information that the doctor was not aware of and that can be very helpful.
Yes. Your doctor should explain the full range of treatments that are suitable for you. This should include the advantages (success rates, simplicity and speed of recovery) and disadvantages (complications, side effects and complexity) of each treatment. You then have the right to choose what you feel is the most appropriate treatment for you.
The doctor can’t make you do anything you don’t wish to do, but equally, patients cannot force a doctor to do something she/he feels is unsuitable. Unless there’s an emergency, you don’t need to decide in front of the doctor. You can go away and think things over. There may be leaflets and other written information to help you with this. If you do make a decision, you are free to change your mind.
Your GP will know of local help. Most hospital obstetrics and gynaecology departments offer fertility care.
The local fertility specialist will usually have links with the larger centres and will be able to refer you for more advanced investigation and treatment if needed.
If you wish to search for yourself, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority publishes a list of licensed centres which provide assisted conception techniques, including their success rates. Once you find a centre which interests you, many have websites which provide detailed information. The majority of these are private clinics, but there are a number of NHS centres too.
The NHS is working towards providing more information on the results for individual doctors but, at present, this is still not published in many specialties. If the information is not on the website of the hospital you’re interested in, you could write to the general manager of the department of obstetrics and gynaecology.
Alternatively, if this doesn’t get you the information you want, you can make a request to an NHS hospital under the Freedom of Information Act (FOI). The FOI entitles you to ask your local hospital for such information and they have to provide it within a certain time. There may be a small charge for this.
FAQs about your appointment
Yes. Choice is a key component of health care and that includes who you see. Your general practitioner or midwife should provide information on the choices available for your condition and allow you to request who you would prefer to see. The NHS website describes your choices and how you can make them.
Yes. A woman can be accompanied by a relative, friend or nurse when speaking or being examined by the doctor. A chaperone is usually made available; however, if there’s no chaperone present, don’t feel uncomfortable about requesting one.
Any O&G department will do their best to provide a woman doctor for you if you state a preference, and it helps if you ask in advance and ensure your request is included with the referral letter from your general practitioner. If it’s not possible, and the situation isn’t urgent, it may be possible to arrange a further appointment at a time when a female doctor is available for you.
Observing senior doctors at work is an essential part of training for medical students and trainee doctors. However, it’s your decision whether or not to allow this, and whether you want the student or trainee to stay for part of the consultation and not others.
If you feel uncomfortable with somebody being present, you should tell the nurse or doctor. You don’t have to explain why you feel that way, and asking for a trainee to leave will not affect your care.
Your general practitioner will usually know the name of specialists who undertake private care and be able to refer you to one in your area. The specialist will usually prefer to receive a referral letter from your general practitioner.
If you wish to research this for yourself, you can ring the local private hospitals or search on the independent Dr Foster website, which provides information on practising consultants including whether they work privately.
Yes, you never lose your right to NHS care. Your general practitioner or specialist will be able to help you with this.
It’s your right to ask for a second opinion, and it’s not an uncommon request. You can either ask the specialist directly, or you can ask your general practitioner to arrange it. A second opinion could be in the same hospital or at a different unit. Sometimes women are happy with the first specialist, but just want to check things out and then return to the first.
Yes. According to the Good Medical Practice guideline, you have the right to ask your hospital doctor not to inform your general practitioner or other healthcare professional about your treatment, condition or medical history.
Yes. The NHS is promoting Copying Correspondence, which says that patients have the right to get a copy of all letters sent to their GP (unless in exceptional circumstances the doctor feels that would not be in the interest of the patient). It’s a good way of keeping you informed of the doctor’s diagnosis and treatment. This should happen automatically, but to be sure, you can mention this at the time of your consultation.
You are free to request the same consultant or to change to another. However, remember that in the NHS, doctors work in teams and you might be cared for by a number of different doctors within the consultant’s team. In addition, in an emergency you would probably be cared for by the on-call team.
You have a number of options.
First of all you could deal with this informally. You could discuss this with the doctor directly or you could also approach the ward nurse if you’re an inpatient.
If it’s a trainee doctor you’re not happy with, you could write to the consultant or ask to see her/him to discuss things. If you want some support to do this, you can approach the hospital’s Public Advice and Liaison Service (PALS). They meet to understand patients’ concerns and can pass information to the doctor or arrange a joint meeting. They work to negotiate good relationships, but they act in your interest.
The NHS website provides information on how to make a complaint. Complaints are willingly received and dealt with professionally. The matter will be investigated and you will receive a letter from the chief executive of the hospital. They will provide a factual account of events, an apology if appropriate, and the offer of a meeting to resolve things. A key part of the exercise is for the hospital to learn lessons, so that it should not happen again.
If you remain concerned after the investigation, you can request an independent review, which involves external assessors. Ultimately, you can make an application to the health ombudsman, but that is rare. 2 helpful websites with more detailed information are:
It’s important to let the hospital know well in advance of your appointment if you have limited English and require translation services for your consultation with the doctor. While some people prefer to rely on a family member or friend, you can ask the trust for a professional translator or interpreter. Sometimes a spoken-language, telephone-based translation service may be provided. If you use British Sign Language as your first and preferred language, you should ask the trust for a qualified interpreter, who should be supplied, given adequate notice.