Do I need a GP referral for private treatment?

No, it's possible to seek private treatment from a consultant or specialist without being referred by your GP. However, the British Medical Association (BMA) believes that, in most cases, it's best practice for patients to be referred for specialist treatment by their GP.

GP referrals

If you're unwell or have symptoms, see your GP first. They will decide if you need treatment and whether they can treat you, or if you need to be referred to a specialist on the NHS.

If your GP thinks you need specialist treatment and you want to pay for it privately, they can write a letter of referral to a private consultant or specialist explaining your condition and your medical history.

Your GP will only refer you to a specialist if they believe that specialist assessment or treatment is necessary. If they don't think it is, they don't have to refer you – either privately or on the NHS.

Second opinion

You can ask your GP or another healthcare professional for a second or further opinion (an opinion about your health condition from a different doctor).

Although you do not have a legal right to a second opinion, a healthcare professional will rarely refuse to refer you for one.

Treatment without a GP referral

If your GP doesn't think you need specialist treatment, you can try to get it without a referral. However, the BMA believes it's usually best if patients are referred for specialist treatment by their GP.

What if I have private medical insurance?

Insurance companies usually require a letter of referral from a doctor. Some companies will accept GPs' referrals to consultants, while others have their own lists of consultants.

If you have private medical or health insurance and you need specialist treatment, check your policy to find out:

  • if your policy covers the treatment you need
  • whether your insurance company accepts consultant referrals from GPs or if it has its own list of consultants
  • when you need to contact your insurance company to tell them you've been referred for treatment

Arrange to see your GP as soon as possible if your insurance company accepts GP referrals.

If you make a claim for treatment under your private medical insurance, some sections of the claim form will probably need to be completed by a doctor. In most cases, the doctor who provides your treatment will be the best person to complete the form because they will have the information required.

You can also ask a GP or an NHS hospital doctor if they will complete the form. However, they do not have to do this, and if they do complete the form, they're entitled to charge for this service.

Read the answers to more questions about NHS services and treatments.

Further information:

Page last reviewed: 02/10/2014

Next review due: 01/10/2016