No. You can get private treatment from a consultant or specialist without being referred by your GP.
But the British Medical Association (BMA) believes it's best practice for patients to be referred for specialist treatment by their GP because they know your medical history and can advise you if a referral is necessary.
A referral is also needed by many private practitioners and private medical insurance policies. If you have private medical insurance, ask your insurer if they need a referral.
Getting a referral from your GP
It's best to see your GP first if you're unwell or have symptoms. Talk to them about whether you might need a specialist assessment or treatment.
If your GP thinks you need to see a specialist 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. You may be charged for this.
Your GP will only refer you to a specialist if they believe that specialist assessment or treatment is necessary. If they do not think it is, they do not have to refer you – either privately or on the NHS.
If you disagree with your GP's decision, you can ask them to refer you to another healthcare professional for a second opinion (an opinion about your health 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.
Page last reviewed: 21 October 2019
Next review due: 21 October 2022