How do I get a referral to an NHS specialist?

You are entitled to ask for a referral for specialist treatment on the NHS. You will need to see your GP if you wish to be referred to a specialist in a particular field, such as a surgeon or a gynaecologist (a specialist in the female reproductive system).

All your medical records are held by your GP, who understands your health history and treatments better than anyone. Therefore, your GP can decide whether a specialist referral is necessary and, if so, recommend appropriate hospitals or clinics.

Under the NHS Choose and Book scheme, you can choose the hospital or clinic where you would like to receive treatment, as long as your GP feels that you need to visit a particular hospital or clinic to receive appropriate medical treatment.

If you ask your GP to refer you to a specialist, they will probably suggest that you try various tests or treatment options first to see whether your condition improves. You cannot usually self-refer to an NHS specialist, except when accessing sexual health clinics or treatment in an accident and emergency (A&E) department.

A specialist will only see you with a referral letter from your GP. The letter will give the specialist essential background information, such as your medical history, and it will also contain details for the specialist to pay particular attention to.

If you wish to see a private specialist, you are still advised to get a referral letter from your GP. However, if you see a private specialist without a GP referral, your GP is not obliged to accept the specialist's recommendations.

Further information:

Page last reviewed: 28/02/2013

Next review due: 27/02/2015