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Appointment booking

What is the NHS e-Referral Service?

The NHS e-Referral Service is a secure and free NHS appointment booking service.

If you're referred to a hospital or clinic for your first outpatient appointment, the NHS e-Referral Service lets you book the appointment at a hospital or clinic of your choice, on a date and time that suits you. See choosing a hospital for more information.


Did you know that in most cases you have the legal right to choose the hospital or service you'd like to go to? This will include many private hospitals, as long as they provide services to the NHS. For more information, see Your choices in the NHS

How do I book, cancel or change an outpatient appointment?

You can book, change or cancel your appointments online, by phone, or at your GP surgery.

If you decide to book online or by phone, your GP surgery will give you an appointment request letter.

This letter includes your unique booking reference number and password. It will also have your NHS Number and a list of hospitals or clinics to choose from.

The shortlist is selected by your GP, so make sure you tell them about your preferences during the appointment.

The NHS e-Referral Service will then provide you with information about appointment dates and times available from the shortlisted healthcare providers, allowing you to make a decision that is most suitable for you.

Use those details to:

  • book your appointment online
  • book your appointment over the phone – ring the appointment line on 0345 608 88 88 (Monday to Friday, 8am to 8pm, weekends and bank holidays from 8am to 4pm)
  • book your appointment while you're at the GP surgery – discuss your options with a member of the practice team 

Download the patient guidance to booking your appointment online (PDF, 5Mb).

If you do not receive an appointment request letter, you will need to contact the healthcare provider who made your referral. See Why have I not received a confirmation letter? for more information.

Most hospitals and clinics allow you to book your appointment through the NHS e-Referral Service. Where this is not possible, the appointment request letter shows a picture of a phone next to that hospital or clinic. You will then have to ring them to book that hospital or clinic. 

Why have I not received a confirmation letter?

Not all healthcare providers send out confirmation letters. If you do not receive a letter, you can print your appointment details online from the NHS e-Referral Service.

If you're not sure about your appointment booking, you can contact the hospital or clinic directly to make sure they have a record of your appointment. You can find contact details for hospitals on this website. The hospital's Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS) may also be able to assist.

The appointments line on 0345 608 88 88 may be able to look into your appointment details for you. You will need your 12-digit reference number and password to do this.

Why do I get the message 'no appointments available'?

This is because the healthcare provider has not released enough appointments into the NHS e-Referral Service.

Individual healthcare providers are responsible for making their appointments available through the NHS e-Referral Service to make sure patients, GPs and other referrers can book appointments electronically.

The majority of healthcare providers release new appointment slots overnight, so it is worth trying again the following day. Alternatively, you can either choose a different provider or send your details on to your preferred healthcare provider, who will then contact you to arrange your appointment. 

Why do I get several reminder letters about my appointment?

For routine appointments, the appointments line automatically sends out two letters to remind patients to book their appointment.

The first letter is sent 14 days after you've been referred by your GP. A second letter is sent 14 days after the first letter if the appointment is still not booked. Depending on the urgency of your referral, you may receive your letter sooner.

Sometimes when you make your booking and when a letter is sent out can overlap. Be aware that the healthcare provider you have booked your appointment with is using a system that may not yet be linked to the NHS e-Referral Service. This may mean that extra copies of letters are written and sent until the hospital updates the NHS e-Referral Service.

What should I do if the appointments line is busy?

The appointments line is an easy way to book, change or cancel your appointment, and in many cases your call will be answered promptly.

You may experience a delay during peak times and hear an automated message telling you that the service is busy. The team will answer your call as soon as possible if you stay on the line.

If you feel unhappy with the service you receive from the appointment line, you can send an email to

How secure is the NHS e-Referral Service?

For the NHS e-Referral Service to work, your personal details – including your name, address, date of birth and why you are being referred – will be sent electronically to your chosen healthcare provider. Many GP practices already store patient information on their clinical computer systems.

The NHS e-Referral Service follows strict national and international standards and requirements for holding and transferring accurate information electronically, including ISO 27001 and the eGovernment Interoperability Framework (eGIF). The NHS e-Referral Service also meets the conditions of the Data Protection Act.

Your referral information will be held and sent securely, and will only be seen by those who are directly involved in delivering your care. If you prefer, you can ask your GP to send a referral letter directly to the healthcare provider.

Why have I been locked out?

The NHS e-Referral Service uses record locking to protect the confidentiality of each patients' appointment requests.

As a security measure, a lock will be put in place if you try to access your appointment details online but enter your log-in details incorrectly more than three times.

After 30 minutes of inactivity, the NHS e-Referral Service removes the lock. If you then still having difficulties, you can contact the appointments line on 0345 608 88 88 to get the lock removed.

Page last reviewed: 09/11/2016

Next review due: 31/10/2018