A "one stop shop" guide to help patients get the most from their GP practice has been launched by the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP).

The guide, entitled It's Your Practice: A patient guide to GP services, is available free of charge and gives patients a diverse range of useful information - from choosing and registering with a surgery and understanding the different services that are available, through to making appointments and getting the most out of the consultation.

As well as being available from the RCGP website, the guide has been taken up by NHS Choices, the online information service set up to help put patients in control of their health care.

Other sectors of the guide include clear guidance on how patients can access their health records, patient rights and responsibilities and how to get involved in the running of their practice.

It highlights the differences in GP services across the four nations of the UK, and provides links to other organisations, including the Citizens Advice Bureau and the Princess Royal Trust for Carers, which can also provide support for patients.

Commenting on the launch of the guide, NHS medical director Professor Sir Bruce Keogh noted that while primary care is the backbone of the NHS, no two GP practices are the same. "This guide will help people understand how primary care works so they can engage with and get the most from a practice of their choice," he aid.

Dr Clare Gerada, chair of the RCGP, stated that the guide "sums up our philosophy of GPs working in partnership with patients to improve health. Patients tell us they want to know how to get more involved. They want to know how to prepare for consultations, who does what and who they should be asking to see. I hope it will prove to be a vey useful resource for patients across the UK."

Added Deborah El-Sayed, director of NHS Choices: "providing people with clear and accessible information that allows them to make the most of their GP services is so important. As the guide has been produced by patients and GPs working together, the advice is relevant, easy to understand and gives great examples of good practice."