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Going into hospital as a patient

Depending on your circumstances, you could be admitted as

  • an outpatient – you'll go to hospital for an appointment, but not stay overnight
  • a day patient (day case) – you'll be given a hospital bed for tests or surgery, but will not stay overnight; this can include treatments such as minor surgery, dialysis or chemotherapy
  • an inpatient – you'll stay in hospital for 1 night or more for tests, medical treatment or surgery

Find out more about having an operation

The hospital should contact you with more information before you come in. Details of what you need to do will vary depending on the hospital.

They might ask you to wear a face covering over your nose and mouth, test to check if you have COVID-19 or self-isolate before you go into hospital.

Check the hospital's website for more information.

Find the contact details of a hospital

What's an admission letter?

Once your hospital appointment is booked, you'll receive an admission letter, which provides you with details such as your hospital admission date or the ward you're going to be on.

If you need to follow any specific instructions before your treatment, those are also included in the letter.

Contents of an admission letter:

  • the date and time of the appointment
  • contact details of the hospital department or ward in charge of your care
  • information about where you have to go on the day
  • the name of the consultant-led team in charge of your care
  • information about any tests you may need to have before your appointment
  • information about any samples (pee and poo) or medicines you may have to bring with you on the day
  • information about whether you can or cannot eat or drink before your hospital appointment, and how long for

Besides the items listed on your appointment letter, you may also want to bring the following with you:

  • a small amount of money in case you need to buy a drink or snack
  • information about any changes to your personal details, such as a new address or GP
  • proof of entitlement to free prescriptions, if appropriate. You can check if you can get free prescriptions
  • proof of entitlement to free travel or help with travel, if appropriate

Call the hospital in advance if you have any special needs or require a translator.

If you have any communication difficulties, you should be given information you can easily understand and any support you need to communicate effectively with the people caring for you.

NHS England has produced a YouTube video in association with the charity Sense about the Accessible Information Standard

Find out more about going into hospital with a learning disability

Cancelling and rearranging appointments

If you're unable to attend your appointment, tell the hospital in advance and they'll try to arrange a new appointment.

Many appointments are wasted each year because patients do not turn up on the day.

If you do not come for your appointment, you'll lose your referral and will have to ask your GP for a new appointment. This also means the waiting time clock will start again.

Find out more about waiting times

If you have decided not to go ahead with the operation or procedure, you'll be referred back to your specialist.

If you happen to fall ill in the weeks before your appointment, let the hospital know, especially in cases of diarrhoea and vomiting.

You may be asked not to come and be offered a new appointment. This is to help prevent and control the spread of infections in the hospital.

Pre-admission assessment

Sometimes you'll be asked to attend a pre-admissions assessment (PAA). This may be an appointment with a nurse or doctor, or a telephone assessment.

You'll be asked questions about your health, medical history and home circumstances.

During the PAA, you'll be given advice about your admission, including where to report to.

You may be asked not to eat or drink before coming into hospital, as this may interfere with your test or operation.

You'll also be given advice about when to take your normal medicines, if you have any.

You may be screened for MRSA and assessed for your risk of hospital-acquired blood clots.

During the PAA, the nurse or doctor can decide whether you're suitable for a day procedure or whether you'll need to stay in hospital to have your operation.

Find out how to prepare for surgery

If you have any special needs, you should state them during the PAA process.

You might want to discuss:

  • any routines you have
  • specialist equipment the hospital may not be able to provide
  • having a carer present with you at certain times
  • access to facilities, such as bathrooms and toilets
  • using a fixed loop or subtitles for television or radio

Find out whether your hospital stay affects your benefits.

Read about financial help if you're disabled

On the day of your procedure

When you arrive at the hospital, you'll need to fill in an admissions form and provide details for the person you named as an emergency contact.

Video: preparing for hospital

This video explains what to pack if you're going into hospital and what facilities to expect.

Media last reviewed: 1 February 2021
Media review due: 1 February 2024

Page last reviewed: 25 April 2023
Next review due: 25 April 2026