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Your choices in the NHS

Did you know that in many cases you have the legal right to choose where you have your NHS treatment? The NHS is offering more and more options to enable you to make choices that best suit your circumstances, giving you greater control of your care, and hopefully better results.

You can view what choices are currently available to NHS patients in the NHS Choice Framework. Here you'll also find information about when you cannot choose – for example, if you need emergency care or you're a member of the armed forces. Make sure you know which options apply to you.

Did you know?

If a GP needs to refer you for a physical or mental health condition, 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 if they provide services to the NHS and it does not cost the NHS any more than a referral to a standard NHS hospital.

You can also choose a clinical team led by a consultant or named healthcare professional, as long as that team provides the treatment you require. Find out more about choosing a hospital or consultant and choosing a mental health service.

You can book your appointment via the NHS e-Referral service. It can be done while you're at the GP surgery, or online, using the shortlist of hospitals or services provided in your appointment request letter. The shortlist is selected by your GP, so make sure you tell them about your preferences during the appointment.

To agree on the shortlist, you and your GP can compare information about hospitals or consultants on this website, including quality outcomes, waiting times, parking and travel. Use the services near you link to make an informed decision before booking.

You have the legal right to ask for your appointment to be moved to a different provider if you're likely to wait longer than the maximum waiting time specified for your treatment.

The hospital or integrated care board (ICB) will have to investigate and offer you a range of suitable alternative hospitals or clinics that would be able to see you sooner. Read the guide to waiting times for more information.

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What can I do if I'm not offered a choice?

You should always be offered a choice at the point of referral and an opportunity to discuss the options with the person referring you. If you feel you have not been offered a choice, you should speak to the person who is referring you in the first instance.

If you still feel that you have not been offered a choice, you could complain to your ICB as they must ensure patients are given choices. Find out more about your local ICB.

If your local ICB is unable to resolve the complaint to your satisfaction, you're entitled to take your complaint to the independent Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman.

Find out more about feedback and complaints about NHS services on the NHS England website. You will also find guidance in section 13 of the NHS Choice Framework.

The future of patient choice in the NHS

The NHS is working hard to improve opportunities for patients to make choices about their care.

The NHS App can be used to manage GP appointments, order repeat prescriptions and see information from your GP health record. Soon you will be able to use the NHS App to find clear information about healthcare providers and waiting times to help you choose where to have your care.

In the near future, NHS England wants all patients to be able to say:

  • I have discussed with my GP or healthcare professional the different options available to me, including the pros and cons and, where appropriate, whether to choose to not have treatment.
  • I was offered appropriate choices of where to go for my care or tests.
  • I was given an opportunity to choose a suitable alternative provider because I was going to wait longer than the maximum waiting time specified in my legal rights.
  • Information to help me make decisions was available and I knew where to find it in a format that was accessible to me.
  • I was given sufficient time to consider what was right for me.

Page last reviewed: 10 May 2023
Next review due: 10 May 2026