When you are referred to hospital, you can choose where you go

When you are referred to hospital, you can choose where you go


Your care – your choice: Did you know that when you are referred to hospital for treatment, you should be given a choice of where you go?

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Sometimes, when you’re referred to hospital, you have a choice of where you go for your treatment.

There are many reasons you might wish to be seen somewhere other than your local provider.

Another clinic may have better public transport links from your home or the parking might be easier. You may have relatives or friends living in another part of the country you’d like to be near so that they can help look after you. Or you may have heard good things about a particular hospital or know there are shorter waiting lists elsewhere.

Sometimes, when you’re referred to hospital, you have a choice of where you go for your treatment

Whatever the reason, it’s your right to be given a choice of different places where you can be treated, whether it’s to see a consultant or other health professional or to have an operation. However, while it’s been a legal requirement for several years, many people don’t know about it.

So the next time you are told you are being referred for a first hospital appointment, it’s worth remembering that you should get a choice of where you go.

And you are free to make a choice based on what’s most important to you – proximity, waiting times or any other reason you see fit. Because choosing where you are treated doesn’t just make for a better experience for you as a patient, it can also help ease pressure on parts of the NHS.

That’s because it allows you to be seen in a hospital with shorter waiting lists, spreading the load on the health service more equally.


You can choose where you would like to receive your first outpatient appointment when you are referred for treatment by a healthcare professional such as a GP, nurse or physiotherapist.

Either they or someone else from the practice, such as one of the admin team, should look up the hospitals that offer suitable services for someone with your condition, and go through your options with you.

You are free to make a choice based on what’s most important to you – proximity, waiting times or any other reason you see fit

You should be offered a minimum of five choices of healthcare providers where clinically appropriate. You may then prioritise a certain area, a shorter waiting time or something else.

Some patients may make their choice straight away during the appointment, but some may wish to take time to consider their options and do their own research. This can be done using websites such as My Planned Care (myplannedcare.nhs.uk) to find out about waiting times and hospital rating information.

Once you’ve made a decision, you can choose online using the link that is sent to you by your practice. If you don’t have online access, you can call the national referral helpline, where someone will talk you through your options and help you make a choice.

Once you’ve reached a decision, your chosen provider will contact you with an appointment date and time so that you can get the care you need, where you’d like it.


Dr Jamila Adi recently helped a patient identify a hospital where she could receive treatment much sooner 

Dr Jamila Adi, a new GP in west London, has been helping patients make choices about their care.

When one of her patients recently needed to see an ear, nose and throat doctor, Dr Adi discovered the waiting time was several months.

So she looked to see where the shortest waiting lists were and found a private hospital offering NHS care not too far away that had availability much sooner.

‘I spoke to the patient in June, and they had an appointment to be seen by the ENT specialist at the end of July, which they were extremely happy with,’ says Dr Adi.

So next time you’re told you need hospital treatment, remember you can make a decision based on what’s important for you and pick from a selection of NHS and independent health providers.


Dr Marjorie Gillespie explains why giving patient choices is so important 

Dr Marjorie Gillespie is an Essex-based GP. She says: ‘Patient choice has been around for a long time. It’s been recognised that if you give patients choice, they are more likely to attend their hospital appointment and are more likely to be satisfied and have a positive outcome.

‘It’s interesting when you talk to people and say, ‘Well, these are all the places that you could go’. Everybody imagines that the only place they can go to is their local major NHS Trust. Some people have strong reasons why that’s where they want to go.

‘Some people have reasons why that’s where they would prefer not to go. This could be because of experiences, positive or negative, for them or for their families.

The exceptions…

Not everyone can choose their healthcare provider. Those who may not be given a choice include people who:

◼ have already had their first outpatient appointment and have been referred on

◼ are using emergency services

◼ are in need of emergency or urgent treatment such as cancer services

◼ are on temporary release from prison or detained in official centres such as secure children’s homes, young offender institutions or immigration removal centres

◼ are being held under the Mental Health Act 1983

◼ are serving members of the armed forces

◼ are using maternity services

◼ have been referred by local authorities

‘The way it works in practice is if the health professional decides a patient needs a specialist opinion, then they’d go onto the referral service page with them.

‘When you open the list, you ask people, ‘What’s important to you? Is your priority getting seen quickly? Or is it getting seen really close to you – your home or your work?’ And so picking a location and, where possible, a day and time that suits them.

‘And sometimes people want a place that you wouldn’t have thought of, but it’s because that’s where their family is. Then you can show them a list of what is available to them as an NHS patient in that neighbourhood.

‘Most often, what we do is give them an indication of the choices that are there and give them a printout with a unique number and a pass code. They can then go home, look up the hospitals, look up the options that are available to them and make a choice.

‘Those who are digitally literate can then manage their appointment online. Obviously, for some people, due to language or difficulties with using online options, the practice can help. It’s about involving them when we are in the consultation and showing them that they have options.

‘If they don’t feel they can make a choice while they’re sitting with their practitioner, they take the information away and make the appointment choice at home digitally.

‘They can also manage their appointment. If it comes through for a day they don’t feel is right for them, then they can move it to a different date. You can call or you can do some of it online. And again, GP practices have staff there to help.

‘One of the areas where I think choice surprises people is with cataract surgery – it’s now being done not just in NHS hospitals, but by a number of different types of provider.

‘People had no idea that they could get a cataract done as quickly as they can in a different place and that it doesn’t involve going to the traditional hospital. And it’s free because it’s on the NHS.’

For more information, go to nhs.uk/patientchoice

This article is part of a paid-for partnership with HM Government

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